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Willmar native hired as project manager for Lake County telecommunications network

The Lake County Board of Commissioners has hired a Willmar native as part of the new management team for its fiber-to-home telecommunications network.

Jeff Roiland was hired as the project manager. He previously ran Willmar's En-Tel Communications network. He will be assisted by Gene South, the longtime CEO of Lakedale Communications in Annandale, which covered a swath of communities in west central Minnesota.

"These two rose to the top right away," county coordinator Matt Huddleston said. He said there were at least 40 pe-ople knocking on the county's do-or to offer the service.

Roiland and South were recommended by the board's committee for the project that will make available high-speed internet, television and phone service to all residents in Lake County and part of St. Louis County currently on the electrical grid.

The hires come two weeks after the board cut ties with National Public Broadband, its consultant for two years on the project and the team that crafted the federal application for funds. The board could not agree on a long-term contract with NPB and also dropped the company it had hired to install the network.

Huddleston, in a press release providing background on the two men, said "Roiland and South were the county's first choice to keep the project moving forward because of their proven record of brining voice, video, and internet to rural communities of Minnesota."

Lake County is the only government body in the country bringing such high-speed service to its entire constituency. It is backed by a $56 million loan and $10 million grant from the Department of Agriculture and its Rural Utilities Services branch. It's part of a federal push to bring more up-to-date telecommunications to rural parts of the county.

The county decided earlier this month to put in its own money on the project, up to $3.5 million. It had tried to bond for the money but high interest rates and urging from the RUS changed the plan.

The network will cover all of Lake County residential areas as well as parts of eastern St. Louis County from Knife River up to Ely.

Reporting by the Lake County News-Chronicle