August 2021 Update

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

We have received a number of “Contact Us” emails asking for updates. Of course everyone is eager to hear of progress. Though I have not posted anything in a couple of months, it is not for lack of activity on broadband.

Rather than write about many topics in a single article, my plan is to break up the topics into separate news posts over the next several days. It is my hope that this will help everyone to understand what is happening on the many different and ongoing broadband topics. 

South Macon Broadband Expansion Project

This project is the most near and dear to the hearts of residents in the Otto and Scaly Mountain communities. Recall that the first phase of this effort calls for the construction of a fiber optic backbone network that will connect from the Franklin city limits, through Otto, and then on to Scaly Mountain. To help get this project started, Macon County committed $580,000 to help cover a portion of the material and construction costs.

Though there has not yet been any active construction on this project, there has been much preparatory work in progress required to make it happen. Since my last report at the end of May, the following activies have been under way:

  • Design and Planning - Before the start of any construction project, designs and plans must be completed prior to filing for permits, easements, etc. The design for the fiber backbone has been completed.
  • Permits - To construct a fiber optic network as with any large construction project, many permits, easements, and agreements must be filed and completed with the State, County, DOT, local land owners, utility companies, etc. This process can be a lengthy one, and most all are required before the start of construction. Balsam West (the County's chosen partner/provider) has reported that the permitting process is now mostly complete, and they are in process with completing the necessary utility company pole attach agreements.
  • Materials and Equipment have been Ordered - As has been previously mentioned, the lead time to take delivery on orders of fiber optic cable and other materials associated with fiber networks is extremely long right now due to the boom in the broadband industry, the pandemic, and many other factors. Orders were placed for the materials required by the backbone project in the April timeframe. Balsam West anticipates beginning to receive these materials within the next few months, allowing the start of actual construction.
  • Construction Contractor Engaged - Balsam West has identified and engaged a fiber construction contractor for the backbone project. The contractor has begun the process of scheduling and planning its labor and equipment needs to complete the job. The goal is that the construction plan, labor, and equipment will all be in place when the first material begins to arrive from suppliers.

So, when can we all anticipate this part of the project to be complete? The goal, assuming the availability of materials in the expected timeframe and barring any unforeseen issues, is that active construction will begin by mid November of this year. That would allow the completion of the backbone just after the first of the year 2022.

Next Steps

Once the fiber backbone is completed, what is next? In other words, when do those of us in south Macon get a high-speed broadband connection to our homes and businesses? Believe me, this is the part my household is anxiously awaiting, given the dismally slow and intermittant internet connection that we are currently "fortunate" to have. Those of us with internet service no matter how slow are indeed fortunate, as there are many homes in our area with no service at all.

For the South Macon Broadband Expansion project, the expansion of services into the community is called Phase 2, with Phase 1 being construction and completion of the backbone. Work to plan and find funding for Phase 2 is actively under way. This is an effort in which LittleT has been involved with Macon County, WNC's Region A Commission, and Balsam West for the last several months.

There are a number of new funding opportunities coming up which could help cover or offset construction costs of this Phase 2 community expansion. There are also some interim development activities being planned which may help to provide a bridge of service for some residents and businesses. Given that there are a number of different funding opportunities and planned developments, I plan to write about them in subsequent news posts. Stay tuned for more info.

Thanks to all for your continued support and patience as we make measured progress towards getting our community better connected.