Scaly Mountain Community Facilities Internet is Live!

Jeff Lee, LitteT Broadband

I am excited to announce that the new high-speed fiber service at both the Scaly Community Center and Sky Valley-Scaly Mountain Volunteer Fire and Rescue is live. The fiber connections were completed last Friday, and networks were officially activated yesterday afternoon. The fiber service available now at these locations is standard consumer 1Gbps internet service from Balsam West.

The Scaly Mountain Community Association will be making announcements in the coming days to set up times of availability and to discuss other programs on which they may be working to develop for the community.

The Otto Community Center High-Speed Internet is Live!

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

I am excited to be posting this update from the newly connected Otto Community Center. The connection was officially activated this morning via a standard consumer 1Gbps fiber service from Balsam West. This new high-speed broadband connection will be shared between the Otto Community Center and Otto Volunteer Fire and Rescue. The Otto Community Development Organization will be making announcements in the coming days to establish times of availability for public WiFi, and to discuss other programs that they may offer to the community.

Work is in progress to get fiber connected and hotspots fully operational at both the Scaly Mountain Community Center and Sky Vally-Scaly Mountain VFR. We hope to have the hotspots at both of these facilities operational early next week.

Update on the South Macon Project

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

I am happy to report that there has been some progress in recent weeks towards the completion of the new fiber backbone network in the South Macon area. Balsam West and the Otto Community Development Organization signed an easement agreement a couple of weeks ago which will allow Balsam West to place an equipment hut on the Otto Community Center property. A similar agreement has been made between Haywood EMC and Balsam West in Scaly Mountain across from the fire station.

Equipment huts in Otto and Scaly are necessary to allow completion of the fiber backbone and support expansion into the surrounding communities. With the agreements in place Balsam West has been working on construction of the foundation for the hut in Otto, and plans to start on the Scaly hut next week. With utility location marking complete, we anticipate fiber to be pulled up Firehouse Road to the new hut in Otto in the next week or two. Fiber will follow in similar fashion in Scaly Mountain after the Scaly hut is ready there.

Once the equipment huts are in place and connected to the backbone, fiber can then be extended to the Otto Community Center, Scaly Mountain Community Center, and the Sky Valley, Scaly Mountain Fire facility. Activation of fiber service to these three facilities will signify that the new backbone is live. Shortly after, our network hotspot contractor Wired Inc. of Franklin will complete the hotspot connections and allow us to start offering public wifi access at these locations, and high-speed fiber service to the Otto and Scaly fire station facilities.

We are excited to be nearing the completion of this project.

Where’s My StarLink Terminal?

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

The SpaceX StarLink program continues to attract press and make progress. SpaceX has continued its aggressive launch schedule to place new satellites in orbit, and each addition to the Low Earth Orbit satellite constellation improves the coverage area and quality of service. There have been many announcements about StarLink mobile service (for RVs), service for airlines, the ability to move your terminal to a new location, and of course the StarLink deployment in Ukraine.

Though StarLink claims the service to be out of beta testing and now deploying commercially, the number of StarLink users remains small, especially in our area. I have received emails from a couple of individuals who have received StarLink terminals in the Otto area, and in general they seem to be happy with the service (especially compared to the alternatives). However, receiving a StarLink terminal right now seems to be a bit like winning the lottery, as there is far more demand than StarLink has been able to fill.

We have personally had an order and deposit for StarLink service on the books for about 15 months now. It is certainly frustrating to continue waiting with no real updates, and when we log into the StarLink website to check the status continues to say "Starlink expects to expand service into your area by late 2022". Friends have asked if we have received our terminal yet, and all I can tell them is “No, I believe ours was sent to Ukraine”. My hope is to get the StarLink service in the near future to provide a higher speed solution than the current 1Mbps DSL service as we wait for fiber to arrive in our area. I know that if we drop our deposit there will be little chance of acquiring access to StarLink for years, effectively taking that option off the table.

From the statistics that I have seen, StarLink had about 250,000 active subscribers as of February. I have also seen a recent statistic of 800,000 orders waiting to be filled. I am hopeful that they will work through the chip shortages and coverage area limitations that are claimed to be holding them back.

For those of us waiting to use this as a connectivity option, for now patience continues to be the only option.

Opportunities for Broadband Expansion In Macon County

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

One must become an eternal optimist when working for rural broadband advocacy and support. There seem to be so many hurdles and road blocks that stand in the way of broadband development in our area, that sometimes it is difficult to find the bright side. One of those “encouraging” bright sides was the recent application window for the NC GREAT Grant program.

May 4th was the application deadline for the NC GREAT 2022 program. Normally GREAT is allocated $15M-$20M per year to disburse throughout the entire state, which is unfortunately not sufficient to build out fiber in one county, let alone 100. This year however, the GREAT program was funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (APRA) signed into law in the spring of 2021. Though it has taken a while for those funds to percolate to our level, $350M of ARPA funds were allocated by the NC legislature to the GREAT Grant program for this round.

Under the GREAT Grant program, internet service providers choose project areas and then develop and submit applications for grants. These grants are then use to fund or help fund the development of high-speed broadband for the proposed project areas. The GREAT Grant program for this round capped single applications to a max of $4M, and the the max allocation per County at $8M. The application window opened at the end of this past January.

LittleT Broadband had the unique opportunity to work with Macon County and several broadband providers to help promote and develop applications that would serve our area. The County’s role for the GREAT program was to do everything possible to encourage providers to become interested in and develop applications for projects within the County, and this round of the GREAT Grant program provided counties wih new tools to help attract and ecouge providers to participate. LittleT worked closely with the Macon County Broadband Committee to develop strategies for maximizing the use of those tools to attract providers, and then worked directly in support of those provider’s application efforts.

On May 4th, four providers submitted five GREAT applications for fiber to the home projects that would serve Macon County. Though there were a number of restrictions as to where providers were allowed to propose projects, those that were submitted as applications cover North, Central, and South Macon, and one proposal would span eligible areas throughout the County.

We are hopeful that one or more of these GREAT Grants will be awarded in Macon, as any of them will help to begin the expansion of high-speed fiber into needed areas. It is important to view these grant projects as a way to begin expansion. Once a provider has grant funds to build into an area it becomes much more cost effective for them to continue that build into surrounding areas.

We should begin hearing the results of the GREAT Grant program in the July timeframe.

Regional Broadband Meeting

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

Things are quite busy at the moment as the application deadline for the NC GREAT Grant program is April 4th. Macon County and LittleT Broadband are working with multiple service providers to assist them in submitting grant applications that will benefit Macon County. More on that later.

I do want to take this opportunity to thank Senator Kevin Corbin, Rep. Karl Gillespie, Rep. Mike Clampitt, and Rep. Mark Pless for organizing and participating in the Broadband Meeting at Holly Springs Baptist Church this past Monday, 3/21/22. We appreciate the large turnout from our NC legislators, WNC county governments, internet providers, the NC Broadband Infrastructure Office, utility companies, and community members interested in bringing better broadband to our area.

The meeting provided an excellent opportunity for exchanging information and bringing attendees up to date about funding opportunities and the work in progress.

NTIA and StarLink

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

NTIA Broadband Infrastructure Grant Announcement

NTIA released an announcement Friday afternoon on the disposition of 2021 Broadband Infrastructure Grant awards. Unfortunately Macon County was NOT a recipient, but this is no surprise to us given the recent FCC RDOF bid authorizations in our county.

Given the very small pool of funds for the 2021 NTIA grant program ($288M nation-wide), it appears that NTIA only awarded a single grant in those states that received awards. The NTIA grant award winner for the state of North Carolina was Lenoir county in the far southeastern portion of the state.


We have received contact from a couple of community members that have been notified by StarLink that they would be receiving their StarLink terminals. Not sure if anyone has actually received their terminals yet, but it does sound like SpaceX is beginning to slowly expand coverage in our area. Though you can go the StarLink website, sign up, and pay a deposit to receive service at some point in the future, understand that they are just beginning to contact individuals who signed up over a year ago. It will take some time for the StarLink program to work through their 1M+ backlog and catch up to demand.

If you have been contacted by StarLink recently to receive a terminal, or you have already received it, set it up, and now have access to the StartLink service, please contact us and tell us about your experience.

Please Take the NC Broadband Survey

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but one of the most important ways everyone in the area can help is by taking the NC Broadband Survey. Please take 5 minutes to complete this survey if you have not done so already.

All counties in the WNC region need this vital information to support grant funding efforts. We are actively using information from this survey to justify which areas in our county are in need of high-speed broadband service and are eligible to receive broadband grant funding. If you live in an area that has no internet access or does not have at least 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up, you need to report it through the NC Broadband Survey.

For homes & businesses without internet service, participants can take the survey by phone. Residents without internet service but with phones capable of text messaging can text “internet” to 919-750-0553. Standard text messaging rates will apply.

Can't Text? Residents with landlines or cellphones that do not have texting capability may place a voice call to 919-750-0553. An interactive voice response system will guide them through a series of short questions to obtain the caller’s address and register it in the database as having no internet capability at all.