The Newport Utilities Board was told Tuesday by General Manager Glenn Ray expansion of the new fiber network throughout the community will utilize wireless transmission in some areas. The move he said will speed the expansion of the network to outlying areas, while reducing the cost.

"You keep hearing about 5G, and the wireless system that we are looking at is building toward being able to support 5G," Ray said.

He also reported Phase I construction will be complete in several days, all schools in the county now are connected and Phase II construction is underway.

The board was told more than 600 customers have already signed up for the fiber service

"Of all the folks doing fiber networks in the United States, there are only 55 utilities that are actually fiber to the home only. We are number 56. And in the Tennessee Valley there are only seven utilities offering fiber service," the manager said.

Ray said Morristown began its fiber service in 2007 and "it doesn't take much to look at Morristown and figure out what has happened over there in the last 10 years.”

He told the board Morristown Utility has only 5,500 fiber customers and those customers have stimulated lots of growth, while NU has the potential for 23,000 fiber customers.

"So the economic impact that (fiber) has on a community is obvious by just looking over there. And of course, a lot of that for them has been industry coming to Morristown just for the broadband."

Board Chair Craig Wild thanked the utility employees who have been in the vanguard of the project, saying the fiber project speaks well for the utility and will have a long-lasting impact on the community.

Board member Jeff Fancher said he is disappointed in the decision by the state to place large unsightly poles on East Broadway as part of the project to upgrade the traffic lights. He argued the large poles are inhibiting efforts to revitalize the historical appearance of downtown.

Ray said he understands the project is costing the state $600,000 per intersection, to upgrade the traffic light system.