Friday, April 1, 2011

FBI Reportedly Opens Probe of Broadband Stimulus Award in Tallahassee

Probe Said to Target Tallahassee Mayor & AT&T Sponsored "Front Group" 04/01/2011 San Francisco - According to three local media outlets, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened a probe into the local partners of a $1.2 million broadband stimulus grant awarded to the City of Tallahassee, Florida.

Questions have been raised about the role of incumbent Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, and his relationship with grant application partner the Alliance for Digital Equality (ADE).

We believe this is the first credible report of an investigation by the FBI into any of the 500 plus broadband stimulus grants and loans made by the Obama Administration as part of the Recovery Act of 2009.

As per standard practice of the Bureau, a FBI spokesperson with the Tallahassee field office has declined to confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation.

The online investigative site Tallahassee Reports first reported on March 29 that a FBI review was underway. "After talking to sources, it has been determined that several documents have been turned over to the FBI because of concern about the relationship between Mayor John Marks and the vendors included in the grant application," wrote Steve Stewart, a reporter and co-founder of the independent journalistic effort. Mr. Stewart was a candidate for Tallahassee mayor in 2010.

Mayor Marks is a member of the Board of Advisors of the Atlanta-based ADE. Records compiled by Mr. Stewart show that ADE has paid $66,000 to Marks since 2007.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce awarded a $1.212 million grant to the City in the agency's Sustainable Broadband Adoption (SBA) category.

FBI scrutiny of the activities of Mayor Marks as they relate to the  award is also being reported by local television station WCTV, which describes itself as an investigative partner of Tallahassee Reports. The daily Tallahasse Democrat, a Gannett property, has published several articles focused on the potential for conflict of interest seen in Mayor Marks' dual role as local City sponsor of the grant and as paid board member of ADE.

ADE is "Front Group" vs. Net Neutrality, Backs AT&T, T-Mobile Deal
SourceWatch of the Center for Media and Democracy states in its profile of ADE that the organization is "is a non-profit front group established to foment opposition to network neutrality by African Americans in key cities nationwide. With the backing of one or more unidentified funding sources, ADE emerged in 2007 under the auspices of helping "consumers to develop local broadband policies."

"More recently, ADE has taken up the mantle in the fight against the Digital Divide and promotes digital literacy programs in under-served communities," says SourceWatch.

ADE lists as supporting Coalition Members a variety of tech sector firms and organizations and community groups, the latter with a focus on the Southeast.  Listed supporters include AT&T, Inc., (NYSE: T), Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) , and Qualcomm Incorporated (NASDAQ: QCOM).

Most recently the group came out in full support of the proposed acquisition of T-Mobile USA by AT&T. In a press statement of March 22, ADE Board of Advisors member Shirley Franklin, former Mayor of Atlanta, said "This merger gives us the foundation to achieve President Obama's goal of 100 percent broadband and is a positive step toward providing access to unserved and underserved communities around the country."

Video From WCTV-TV:
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