Newport full-speed on internet plan, despite Comptrollers’ worries

Newport full-speed on internet plan, despite Comptrollers’ worries

Newport officials held a public forum Thursday to clear up any supposed misinformation they said Tennessee Watchdog is peddling about their proposed $21.9 million government-owned internet plan that could bury taxpayers in debt.

While the forum was designed to clear up any misunderstandings, these officials had no interest in giving their side of this story to this publication.

As reported, public utilities are backed by ratepayer and taxpayer dollars. If Newport’s proposed project goes through and fails to generate enough revenue, taxpayers might have to make up the difference, said David Williams, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

Newport Utilities General Manager Glenn Ray Thursday greets members of the public at a forum to discuss government-owned Internet Thursday (photo by Chris Butler).

Tennessee Comptrollers have already said they cannot determine if Newport’s proposal is feasible. That report criticized city officials’ methodology, particularly their assumptions on how many customers they can get.

RELATED — Utah a cautionary tale for municipal broadband in Tennessee, expert says

Tennessee Watchdog approached Newport Utilities General Manager Glenn Ray Thursday. He had nothing to say.

“I don’t have time to talk to you right now,” Ray said at the public forum.

“And I can’t talk to you tomorrow, either, because I’m booked up with meetings.”

Ray and other Newport officials have spent the past month dodging Tennessee Watchdog’s repeated requests for an interview, while at the same time trashing this publication in the local media.

City officials have hired a Colorado-based consulting firm, Magellan Advisors, to advise them on how best to implement government-owned internet.

Kyle Holyfield, whose LinkedIn page lists him as Magellan’s senior vice president, said he faults state Comptrollers for not doing a thorough job in their recent report.

“They had no benchmarking to go by or no other standards to go by, and there’s plenty of other communities in Tennessee that have done similar things,” Holyfield said.

The federal Department of Agriculture, Holyfield went on, will finance the plan. Revenue from this government-owned Internet plan will pay back the loan over 35 years, he added.

RELATED — Rural areas could have broadband in five years, even without taxpayer involvement

Some of the people who attended the forum said they weren’t lacking for internet service. They just didn’t like what they’re paying through private providers. Annette Mason of Newport said she believes Newport Utilities will offer cheaper rates.

Similar projects — backed by an endless supply of taxpayer money, an advantage private internet providers don’t have — have failed in Memphis and Provo, Utah.

Ironically, one of the most outspoken people on behalf of government-owned internet to attend was a supposedly objective reporter named Ray Snader.

Ray Snader, news director for the Newport-based WNPC, made it clear Thursday he wants government-owned Internet (photo by Chris Butler).

Snader, according to his Facebook page, is the news director for the Newport-based WNPC radio station. He’s also listed as a correspondent for the Morristown Citizen Tribune.

Snader seemed to have an aggressive tone and repeatedly asked this reporter why this outlet is covering this subject if I don’t live in Newport.

Tennessee Watchdog covers government waste, fraud, and abuse at the local, state and federal levels throughout the entire state.

RELATED — Municipal broadband is risky, TN agency says in new report

“I live here. Where I live I do not have cable service. I want the Newport Utilities to offer cable service because it’s time. Currently I use a satellite, and everyone in the community wants to have cable,” Snader said.

The TPA, meanwhile, took out a full-page newspaper ad in Thursday’s edition of the Newport Plain Talk and warned the plan “could jeopardize the financial future of the City of Newport.”

The organization currently has an online petition asking Newport residents whether they think they should get to vote on the matter in a referendum as opposed to letting city aldermen decide.

Williams said Thursday the petition thus far has 99 signatures.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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Follow Chris Butler on his professional Facebook page Chris Butler Writer/Journalist

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