February 2021 Update
First, let us appologize to our supporters that have been waiting for an update. Between waiting for news on grants, the holidays, and the pandemic, time has gotten away from us.
Though the original intent behind the formation of LittleT Broadband included applying for and securing grant funding in our own name, we have learned through research and exploration of this process that the grant programs available are structured to support established internet service providers. As a non-profit organization with no established business and customer base, we found it impossible to secure grants on our own.
That realization has pushed us to focus on the "facilitation" part of our charter.
Our work last fall was to assist our partner, Balsam West, in applying for grants and to submit a proposal to Macon County in response to the Request for Proposal (RFP) released in October.
NC GREAT Grant Program
As detailed in our previous blog, during early October we worked with Balsam West and the Appalachian Regional Commission to help prepare a grant application and proposal for submission to the NC GREAT 2020 CARES Act Supplemental Round. That application was submitted on October 14, 2020.
After some funding delays in the NC GREAT process, winners of this grant round were announced in mid December. Unfortunately, Balsam West was not successful in securing a grant during this round. Out of over 80 applicants, only 11 providers were selected. This round will distribute approximately $30M to projects in 18 counties. No awards were given in Macon county.
The feeling is that the NC DIT Broadband GREAT committee may have focused more on pure fiber proposals. There is also speculation that Morris receiving a grant for Macon county in 2019 may have created a disadvantage.
The hope was that funds from this grant would help develop and accelerate the distribution of new high speed internet servcies from the planned backbone network to homes and businesses. We must now look to other funding sources to drive this expansion.
Macon County Request For Proposals (RFP)
During the end of October, LittleT Broadband assisted Balsam West in the effort to prepare a response to Macon County's RFP. This proposal was submitted on November 2, 2020. In December, the county contacted Balsam West informing them that they had been selected as the winner of the south Macon internet expansion project.
Since the start of the year, Balsam West has been working with the county to formalize the contractual business relationship. That work should be completed by the end of February, and we are hopeful that work on the network backbone project will begin sometime in March.
Construction of the network backbone will bring critical high-speed internet capability into the Otto and Scaly areas. As the backbone is completed, sevice will initially be offered to those residences and businesses along the path. Further expansion into the rest of the community will happen as funding permits.
We are often asked, what about StarLink? When will it be available here?
SpaceX continues to make progress with their StarLink service. At this time, they are still in the public beta test phase, and are only able to offer their "Better Than Nothing" service in northern lattitudes. This new service appears to have much promise, offering speeds from 40Mbs-120Mbps with latency of around 40ms.
However, the limited service that is available is still far from prime time. Though the speed and latency appear to meet expectations, there are constant black out periods lasting from seconds to minutes long where no connection is available. Much longer outages have also been experienced by some testers. This issue is due to the fact that SpaceX still does not have enough operational satellites in place to maintain a constant connection. It is anticipated that this condition will improve over time.
SpaceX's ability to extend service into our area will depend on their ability to get many hundreds of additional satellites aloft, and to build a network of new ground stations in the southern US. Based on their current rate of progress, we do not anticipate that beta testing for the southern US will begin until mid to late 2021 at the earliest. Keep in mind that availability of beta testing still does not constitute a commercial service offering. As their initial beta service has been running close to 6 months now, it is not unreasonable to expect that a beta period in the sothern US would last 6 months or more before commercial service becomes available. So, this could mean availability sometime in 2022 for most folks.
SpaceX received a sizeable award from the FCC Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction last fall. No awardees have yet received any federal funding as they must submit their long form applications later this month. Once long forms are submitted, reviewed/vetted, and accepted, award winners like SpaceX will be eligible to start receiving funding payments. It should be noted that there are groups and some members of congress that are contesting a number of the FCC RDOF awards. It is possible that some of the awardees may lose part or all of their funding opportunities after review from the new FCC leadership.