Morristown And Newport Buddy-Up For Broadband In Rural TN


Morristown Utilities Commission (MUC) and Newport Utilities (NU) in Tennessee have taken the first monumental step in partnering to bring high-quality connectivity to NU customers. Both entities passed resolutions for an interlocal government agreement that will bring MUC’s FiberNET to Newport.


A Win-Win

“This is hopefully going to be a win-win for both Newport and MUC, that we would provide services for them to put a three-way package into at least part of their service area,” MUC Chairman George McGuffin said. ‘‘This is essentially the first step, as far as agreements.”

The plan will allow MUC to expand its “light services,” which includes FiberNET, to NU’s service area in several phases. The first phase will allow more than 8,000 potential subscribers, or 47 percent of Cocke County households, to obtain FiberNET services. Phase One is scheduled to be completed in 2017; the partners also expect to begin Phase Two construction during the second quarter.


Morristown and its gigabit network FiberNET have been on our radar for a long time. We’ve written about how this community, a relatively early adopter of the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, has saved the community in several ways. By lowering electric costs with a smart meter program and by generally lower Internet access costs for government, businesses, and residents, FiberNET is saving Morristown in the tens of millions. The network is also attracting new jobs and contributing to city coffers through payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT).

Listen to General Manager and CEO Jody Wigington talk to Christopher about Morristown’s decision to invest in Internet infrastructure. He visited us for episode 35 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast in 2013.

Friends For Light


NU serves approximately 20,000 homes and businesses in Cocke County, located south and east of Morristown’s Hamblen County. Hamblen has a higher population density with 1,194 people per square mile while Cocke’s population density is only 77 people per square mile. There are hundreds of small rural communities that have municipal electric utilities across the U.S. but don’t have the resources to invest in a telecommunications division. Some of them are located near neighboring communities that already have a municipal network. In Tennessee, the benefit of location is lost because neighbors are not allowed to help each other out.

A partnership between NU and MUS will allow other small communities similarly situated by creating a possible model on how to obtain better local connectivity in spite of the state’s harmful barrier. Neighboring municipal electric utilities cannot offer services beyond their electric service areas in Tennessee, but a carefully crafted interlocal agreement which, creates a partnership is a new tool in the toolbox.

Old photo of men at Newport station courtesy of Marion Post Wolcott [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.