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Talks between Lake County Board, fiber optic firm get bumpy

Tensions are mounting in Lake County over the proposed $70 million fiber optic broadband network. The Lake County Board of Commissioners has paid far more attention to National Public Broadband, which has proposed to build the network for the cou...

Tensions are mounting in Lake County over the proposed $70 million fiber optic broadband network.

The Lake County Board of Commissioners has paid far more attention to National Public Broadband, which has proposed to build the network for the county, ever since it was revealed that the CEO of the company has a troubled history with another broadband project in Vermont.

Lake County Board members met on Monday to talk about coming up with a final agreement with NPB and discuss what they considered gray areas of the contract.

Russ Conrow, the former county attorney who was asked by the board to continue work on the negotiations, told commissioners Monday that the current contract draft showed a lot of "deference" to NPB.

He said while NPB has the expertise, the county still has "all the money" and things changed when the Vermont issue heated up.

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"That deference went away," Conrow said. "The trust is gone."

Gary Fields, the chief financial officer for NPB, said he thought the negotiations were done.

"We had an agreement ready to go," he said.

Fields and other representatives for NPB abruptly left Monday's county meeting as Conrow began to present some of his concerns in what he called the seventh draft of the contract.

One of the NPB members said they were not going "listen to this (expletive)."

Fields wouldn't comment on the remark but said the reason the NPB contingent left the meeting was to give the board space to discuss the contract.

He said he is "looking forward to doing the real work" for the county after negotiations are through.

The county board will meet to finalize its changes to the contract draft at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at a meeting at the Lake County Law Enforcement Center meeting room. It will then offer the proposals to NPB and negotiate with the company at 2 p.m. on Jan. 21 in the county board room.

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The county is working within a six-month timeline from when the funding was announced in September, meaning it would like to have the project going by March. NPB has said it could have people hooked up to the high-speed broadband service by the end of the year.

The added scrutiny from Lake County commissioners is due to questions raised about NPB CEO Tim Nulty, who was once the general manager at Burlington Telecom, a city-run broadband project in Vermont that is $50 million in debt.

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