How Much Will It Cost to Connect?

Jeff Lee, LitteT Broadband

I recently saw a Rant&Rave in the Franklin Press talking about the cost of broadband connection fees.
"It is good broadband is getting extended to under-served areas of the county, but the connection fee of $1,500 is a barrier for most households.

Seeing this prompted me to write this article in hopes of clarifying a few facts about the broadband expansion projects under way in our county. The real answer to the question in the title is "It Depends".

There are two types of broadband expansion projects: projects privately funded by individual providers and projects funded by state grants and federal subsidies.

Privately Funded Projects

The South Macon and Nantahala broadband expansion projects are examples of projects kicked off through some action and by Macon County, but must ultimately be financed through private funding. 

In the case of South Macon, the County provided a grant (back when it was still legal for counties to do so) to help kickstart the construction of a fiber backbone into the South Macon area. Without the existence of that backbone, no expansion was even possible. Ultimately however, the financial burden to connect homes and businesses to this backbone fall on BalsamWest. BalsamWest is actively working with communities, businesses, and individual residents to get connected. Unfortunately the cost to reach many of these communities from the backbone is high, and these communities and residents are being asked to defray some of the investment cost through a connection fee. The actual connection fee charged typically depends on how many homes/businesses are being connected within a given area.

The Nantahala expansion project is just getting underway. As counties in NC are no longer legally allowed to offer grants to encourage broadband construction, the County contracted BalsamWest to build fiber and connect 5 County anchor institution facilities. These facilities vitally need the connectivity for public safety, and once the fiber is complete will offer public wifi to help provide some community connectivity. To expand into the community beyond these specific 5 connections requires private funding from BalsamWest. After completion of the project initiated by the County, BalsamWest will begin to work with surrounding communities to provide fiber service. Some of these communities and individual residents will likely be asked to pay a connection fee to defray additional construction costs.

There are other expansion projects within Macon that were not initiated by the County but by individual providers. Projects developed by individual providers on their own are typically chosen and designed to meet some basic business return on investment criteria. Internet service providers are businesses that must generate a profit to remain in business. The connection fee amounts charged in projects such as these will depend on the provider, how they have chosen to fund the project, and how they intend to make a return on this ivestment.

Grant and Subsidy Funded Projects

There are currently 3 grant and subsidy funded broadband projects that will be impacting Macon County. With several additional grant programs kicking off, we hope to add more projects like these in Macon.

  • GREAT Frontier Award - Frontier is finishing up their design work and plans to begin construction in the next month or so. This project will connect 2700 homes and businesses by Q2 2025.
  • GREAT BalsamWest Award - BalsamWest is working on planning and design and intends to begin construction by the end of the summer. This build will serve 263 residences in the South Macon area by Q3 2025. Macon County was pleased to see this grant awarded as it leverages earlier investment in the South Macon project.
  • RDOF Charter Award - Charter Communications received subsidy awards nation-wide as part of this program. They are busy building in Haywood and Jackson counties and have indicated they plan to reach and begin construction in Macon County later this year. The Charter RDOF project is intended to provide service to over 8000 homes and businesses within the County, and they hope to complete their build in 2027.
All of the above programs will offer connection to awarded locations at no additional cost beyond the monthly price of service. This is required as part of the grant or subsidy agreements, which means that more than 11,000 Macon County residents will ultimately receive a high-speed broadband with NO connection fee.