Little T April Update

Tony Deakins, Little T Broadband

The following article was published in the April edition of the Scaly Mountain newsletter.
Since the creation of the original article, our survey response count has reached 213. If you have not already done so and live in the Otto or Scaly areas, please respond to our survey. You can get started by clicking the Survey link at the top of the web page.

To date, we have roughly 187 responses. I would very much like to see this move to over 200, as that is a very strong response for surveys of this nature indicating high interest. So, yes; I would love for people to complete responses to this survey if they have not already. And, we thank everyone who has provided us with this information. It has been telling. Of the responses we received, 47% work at home,26% have school age children at home and 13% have need of telemedical support at home. We are still applying analytics to the data these surveys provide, so I expect additional indicators within the near future. Again, thanks to everyone who has provided us with this information and hopefully more will do so within the next couple of weeks. Hey, what else do you have to do during “lock down”?

I recently published a letter that appeared in the Macon County News and was submitted as well to the Franklin Press. The article emphasized the value of internet access in times like this showing its value beyond simply an entertainment medium. As this emergency persists into May and probably longer, internet access becomes even more vital. I encourage people throughout Western North Carolina and, in particular, our South Macon County communities, to write their elected officials in Raleigh to help show the irrationality of the North Carolina legislature in its being more a part of the problem than any solution to rural broadband access. The supposed “Great Grant” is a paltry and ill-organized band aid to a problem that deserves a much greater priority than it has so far been given. Hopefully, this current pandemic and its “stay at home” mandates reinforce the need for rural broadband access. At minimum, any prohibitions on local communities providing themselves, using local tax and public grant money, with this vital resource should be fully rescinded. Again: Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way.

As for any of the current approaches to satellite services, I wish them well and hope it ultimately works. There should be some consolation for not being able to see the stars at night through the cloud of large and small comsats. Right now, that technology is still in its “hype” phase and there are several issues that remain to be demonstrated as solved. Not the least of these is “latency” which, the last time I saw any progress reports, still was around 700 milliseconds. And, that is just the part directly attributable to satellite round-trip. This issue caused the FCC to withhold recognition of satellite-delivered internet as a generally viable solution and, as such, not eligible for federal grants.

Satellite delivered internet is focused largely, if not quietly, on the air travel and ships-at-sea market which is expected to be huge within the near future and forms a revenue base rich for content providers. This market is not as sensitive to latency and other issues as the more terrestrial markets. Also, certain terrestrial markets such as found in the broad plains and prairies of the western U.S., Australia, Argentina and the Russian steppes likely would benefit. But, for those of us in “bumpy” and “leafy” locales, not so much. And, we are, if anything, not a revenue rich market. So, ask yourself, if you were the business genius behind the several versions of “Sky Net”-like start-ups, would you target a revenue-poor market? Oh, and did I mention, the FCC has denied the satellite companies access to federal grants due to the latency issues.

Little T Broadband in partnership with Balsam West Fibernet, has finalized the “Fast-Start” routes and cost estimates. “Fast-Start” is a forerunner to the larger phased deployment. We will be requesting grant funding from the county. We will meet the “only existing ISPs need apply” requirement that caused us to not receive the funding from our last grant request (…despite the numerous rumors to the contrary). Also, we will be submitting requests to The Golden Leaf Fund and other smaller grant providers for funds to build this initial phase out. We thought we might get this up and running by the end of the year, but the pandemic has slowed everybody down substantially. Once this has marched-off into history, we will be able to reset expectations on when Fast-Start will begin providing service as well as the follow-on buildout plans.