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Western Carolina Deal With Morris Broadband Will Bring Internet To 700 New Homes

Courtesy of Western Carolina University
Western Carolina’s electrical distribution system extends throughout the Cullowhee Valley and is maintained by a line crew that includes (from left) Travis Taylor, Randy Fox, Keith Dills, Andy Edwards and Brandon Green.";

Just as it was thinking of getting out of the public utility business, Western Carolina University will instead be expanding its offerings to include improved internet service in the area around its Cullowhee campus.

Credit Lilly Knoepp
Western Carolina University has provided electricity to the Cullowhee Valley since 1930. Information courtesy of Western Carolina University.


In mid-July, Morris Broadband and Western Carolina signed a deal that would allow Morris to attach broadband internet equipment to Western Carolina’s existing electric poles in order to expand access to higher speeds for the community. Mike Byers, vice chancellor for administration and finance, says the idea came as the university was thinking of disconnecting their electricity service.


“It’s a really cool outcome,” says Byers. “We were very close to selling our distribution network and getting out of that business and we were fortunate to look at, ‘What are we forgetting?’ This turns out to be something that can help ourselves and help the surrounding community.”


Western Carolina has operated electric services in the region since first building a hydroelectric dam in the Tuckasegee River in 1930 to bring reliable power to the school. The university continues to provide service through Duke Energy.  


Morris Broadband says that they will invest about $1.5 million dollars to add the new equipment which will expand the coverage to more than 700 new homes. Without this deal, Anthony Carter, general manager of Morris Broadband, says that it would not have been possible for Morris to expand the network.


Credit Courtesy of Western Carolina University
The red lines on this map indicate the reach of WCU’s electrical distribution system beyond the main campus in Cullowhee, NC.

He says Morris usually looks to have about 30 customers per mile in an area in order to make a profit. This deal will allow them to provide service to areas with as few as 10 customers per mile.

Currently, customers in the area have a minimum speed of 10 mbps. The new expanded network will bump up the minimum speed to 25 megabits and will max out at 500 megabits.

For Byer’s, giving access to high speed internet and reliable electricity is just a part of the university’s mission:


“Although providing these basic utilities might not be directly written into our mission, if there is an ability for the university to leverage itself to serve the surrounding community and to serve the region then that is exactly the right thing to do,” says Byers.


Morris Broadband says that it hopes to start getting customers online in about 6 months and says the project should wrap up in about 18 months.


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