|Newport Utilities public hearing|
Members of the Newport Utilities(NU)Board, Thursday evening hosted a public hearing to answer questions regarding it's proposal to offer fiber broadband services to the utility's customers. It is to be funded with a USDA loan as well as a start-up inter-division loan from the Electric System of $3.5 million from cash reserves, to be paid back at an interest rate of 4.5 percent. The plan developed by Magellan-Advisors,LLC, proposes a multi-year rollout, with a positive net income expected in year 3. The Phase 1 build-out will offer services to 6,977 residential and 1,191 business customers. Chair of the NU Board Roland Dykes III said the purpose of the meeting was to clarify questions of customers. "There has been alot of publicity, negative and positive in the community and we wanted to do this to make sure everybody understood what we are trying to do, and what broadband will mean for our community. Dykes said a meeting is scheduled for next week with the Newport City Council, at which time the council will be asked for a resolution endorsing the project, and then plans are to move forward with the project. Vickie Wilson-Turner, a former NU employee, and currently with the Morristown Utility Board, said the move by that utility to offer broadband services has been profitable. "It's been a huge asset to out community. It has definitely improved our business offerings. Alot of businesses look to Morristown first because we have a very strong infrastructure in our FiberNet product." Kyle Hollifield of Magellan Advisers participated in the study to determine the feasibility of the utility offering Internet. He said the offered Internet speed will be faster than current offerings, and at a lower monthly charge. "Our starting Internet speed is 100 megabits, with a monthly fee of $39.That is ten times the speed of DSL, and two to three times the speed of cable. Satellite Internet is much slower than DSL or cable. All customers of fiber get the same speed of service." He said fiber will bring more reliable for the utility system itself to help reduce long term maintenance costs for the ratepayers. Virtually all of the attendees were positive about the plan, because many areas of Cocke County are without Internet service. But there was one notable exception. Christoper Butler is with the Tennessee Watchdog, an on-line publication that campaigns against Internet offerings by public utilities across the country. He has been providing opinions regarding the feasibility of the plan, saying the utility should allow privately owned firms to provide Internet services Butler said he tried to talk with utility officials about the plan but received no response. He said he does not live in Cocke County and hasn't covered any of the board meetings where the proposed fiber offering was explained. When asked if his website is supported financially by the cable offerings that currently serve some ares of Cocke County, Butler declined to answer.
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