February 2022
Where is our High-Speed Internet?

We are now almost halfway through the month of February. There have been a number broadband program announcements in the last couple of weeks and there is continued work on programs already underway.

South Macon Broadband Expansion Project

Work continues in the effort to complete the first phase of this project through activation of the new fiber backbone from Franklin to Scaly Mountain. Though most of the construction activity along 441 is complete, Balsam West must complete the execution of easement agreements in order to finish the fiber build. We continue to be hopeful for this activity to be wrapped up in the coming weeks.

The backbone completion will culminate in the activation of fiber service to the three community facilities in South Macon: the Otto Community Center, the Scaly Mountain Community Center, and the Sky Valley-Scaly Mountain Volunteer Fire & Rescue. The hotspot equipment is already installed and ready in these facilities, and will be fully activated once the fiber service is available.

RDOF Auction 904

On January 28, the FCC announced that the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction bids covering a large portion of Macon County were ready to authorize. Once financial approval is finalized in the next 2-4 weeks, the FCC will fully authorize Charter Communications (doing business as Time Warner Cable in North Carolina) to begin receiving subsidy payments to build their expanded network in WNC and other parts of the state.

Charter will have 6 years to build out their network. Given that Charter’s closest presence to Macon County is the East side of Waynesville, we anticipate it will be several years before their construction makes its way this far to the West and South. Though we are hopeful that Charter will fulfill its commitment and build into Macon County, there are no guarantees as many things can happen over a 6 year timespan. We will continue to monitor progress on their activity.

For more information on RDOF, you can review earlier posts RDOF and Macon County and RDOF Update.

NTIA Broadband Infrastructure Grant

To date, NTIA has made no award announcements for the Broadband Infrastructure Grant program for which applications were submitted last August. Our speculation is that NTIA has been waiting for the FCC to complete its backlog of RDOF 904 bid authorizations prior to releasing any award announcements. Based on the FCC authorization of the Charter RDOF bids in Macon County, our view is that there is now very little chance of Macon receiving an NTIA grant award. We will continue to monitor this program and announce any final results once available.

As this grant program was intended to be a vehicle to help fund expansion of fiber service from the South Macon backbone into the surrounding community, we are now actively looking to other grant programs to fill this funding need.

NC GREAT Grant Program

On January 31, the NCDIT Broadband Infrastructure Office announced the release of the GREAT grant program for 2022 and opened the window for applications (Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology). The GREAT 2022 round is being funded through allocation of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds received by the state, and the $350M grant pool is the largest broadband funding effort ever administered by the state of North Carolina.

The disappointing news that came with this announcement is that the state legislation which dictates the areas eligible for this grant funding has stipulated that areas designated to receive funding through other federal and state programs are not eligible. This means that the RDOF 904 areas which cover 62% of Macon County are not eligible for grant funding through the NC GREAT program. This includes a large part of the area within the South Macon Expansion Project. The state legislature did make changes to other rules, but they allowed the rule to remain which protects the RDOF areas, creating a financial road block for other programs planned and under way.

See the NC GREAT Eligible Area Map for Macon County.

Though we cannot seek funding for RDOF areas through this program, there are still a number of smaller areas that are still eligible. We are working with Macon County and local providers to identify these eligible areas and prepare grant applications for this program. As applications for the remaining eligible areas are developed and submitted, we will provide updates.

Future Grant Programs

The release of the new NC GREAT program is not very favorable for our area, however the encouraging news is that there are several more grant funding programs in development that will be released later this year. It is too late to change eligibility rules for GREAT, but it may not be too late for our legislators to improve the situation in our area through the coming programs.

Please see the map linked above. If you are in an area that is excluded from funding due to RDOF, feel free to contact your local state legislators and let them know that the eligibility rules need to be changed for future broadband grant programs.

Please Take the NC Broadband Survey


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.

We are actively using information from this survey to justify which areas in our county are in need of high-speed broadband service. 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.

Progress Update - January 2, 2022

Jeff Lee, Little T Broadband

Happy New Year to all! We hope everyone has had a safe and relaxing holiday season.
With the holidays behind us, we want to provide an update on our progress through the end of 2021.

South Macon Backbone

As many of you have been following, construction of the new fiber backbone network in South Macon continued through the end of the year. Along 441 the new aerial fiber from Addington Bridge Rd to Coweeta Church Rd is complete, and the majority of the underground fiber from Coweeta Church Rd to Brown Rd is installed. There is still a section to be installed up Firehouse Rd, splicing, and other work left to complete this leg.

Balsam West plans to have the construction complete along 441 in the coming weeks. Haywood EMC has also been working on fiber construction from Scaly Mountain to Highlands, though we do not have any status on that portion at this time. It is our hope barring weather and other unforeseen delays that the connection from Franklin to Scaly will be live by the end of the month.

Community Center Hotspots

We have made great progress on installation of the necessary equipment for hotspots. Wired Inc. of Franklin has completed most hotspot installation work in both the Otto and Scaly Mountain Community Centers and the Sky Valley-Scaly Mountain Volunteer Fire and Rescue facility. This equipment and the work to install was paid for through a grant from the North Carolina Student Connect program administered by the Southwestern Regional Commission. The remaining work required to complete connection of the hot spots will be funded by Little T Broadband.

Once fiber service reaches these facilities we will be able to activate public WiFi, and it is our hope that this will occur by the end of this month. Stay tuned, as we will make another announcement when these become active.

NTIA Grant and Fiber Expansion

We have received a number of questions from community members asking when to expect new internet service at their home. Though we all wish it to be tomorrow, unfortunately the answer is a bit uncertain and likely not soon for most of us.

The expansion of fiber service from the backbone into Otto, Scaly, and other areas outside the Highlands city limits is primarily dependent on federal and state grant funding, and the timing/availability of this funding has yet to be determined. These areas were included as part of a federal grant application submitted late last summer, and the outcome of that grant application will dictate the pace of expansion there. Though the application was filed in August, all applicants nationwide for the 2021 NTIA Broadband Infrastructure Grant program are still waiting for announcement of awards, which were delayed until sometime in early 2022. If the NTIA grant is not received, we will be applying to new grant programs that are being made possible through ARPA and the recently passed federal Infrastructure Bill to be released later this year, and unfortunately expansion work would be delayed accordingly.

Once a grant is received, we would expect active construction of expanded fiber service to begin within a few months of the grant announcement. This will depend on the exact timing of the grant funds, fiber contractor availability, materials availability, weather, and a variety of other factors. Fiber construction does take time, and assuming sufficient grant funding it is our expectation that to build out fiber in the Otto, Scaly, and surrounding Highlands area will take 1-2 years once it begins. Though the exact schedule for roll out of service will be determined by Balsam West and their contractors, it is reasonable to assume service will become available first to those locations immediately adjacent to the backbone network, and then construction and service will slowly radiate out from there. Those who live a number of miles from the backbone in areas more difficult to reach should expect a longer wait. Unfortunately, my home along with many others falls into that category.

There will likely be some service expansion immediately along the backbone once it becomes active independent of grant funding. However, this work will depend on private funding/investment from Balsam West and their stakeholders, and such expansion would be based on their internal business analyses for those areas.

How Can I Help?

As you likely know from our website and other info, Little T is an organization consisting of a very small group of unpaid volunteers. Though we have a few individuals who periodically help out on a consulting basis, our number of active members participating day to day is very limited.

Help is always welcome and we appreciate any and all offers. How you might be able to help would depend on your background, motivation, and availability. Feel free to contact us through the website if you would like to offer your time and/or expertise. Please make sure that you provide a valid email address and a phone number so that we may reach out to you. We have received some contact forms that may contain typos in the email address and no phone number, so if you have not heard back from us in a few days please try again making sure all of your contact info is correct.

Greatful: Hotspot Work Has Begun

Jeff Lee, Little T Broadband

Happy Thanksgiving!

The South Macon communities have one more thing for which to be grateful today. After several months of work on a grant proposal and project planning, Little T Broadband is happy to report that grant funds have been officially received, and that we have launched the South Macon Community Center Hotspot project. The first site work was completed on Monday afternoon, November 22nd.

As mentioned in our article from October, Little T Broadband was selected to receive a grant through the Southwestern and Land of Sky Regional Commissions for creation of public WiFI hotspots at three community facilities in South Macon. The Otto and Scaly Mountain Community Centers and the Sky Valley-Scaly Mountain Volunteer Fire and Rescue station will be connected to fiber broadband by Balsam West as part of the South Macon Broadband Expansion project. The funding made available to Little T through the Regional Commissions from the State of North Carolina Student Connect program will allow installation and activation of the WiFi and electronics equipment needed to create public hotspots and fully utilize the new high-speed broadband connections coming to these facilities. A primary goal of this project is to provide much needed relief to families with school-aged children in the Otto and Scaly areas without access to high-speed internet.

Work began this past Monday with Crawford Electric at the Otto Community Center who installed a new dedicated electrical circuit. Little T has entered into an agreement with Wired Inc., a Franklin-based computer and IT services company, to install and configure the hotspot equipment. Technicians from Wired Inc. will begin cable installation work at the Scaly Community Center the week after Thanksgiving, and will move on to the other two facilities as work progresses.

We are excited to get this project off the ground, and hope to have all three facilities connected and operational by the end of January, 2022. The organizations active at these facilities are looking forward to providing student and community services not possible without broadband connections. Thanks to all who are participating to help make this possible.

Please stay tuned for further progress updates on this project.

Updates on RDOF, NTIA, and StarLink

Jeff Lee, Little T Broadband

There have been several programs that we have been following which have potential to bring high-speed broadband service to our area. Unfortunately there seems to be a theme of delays with all.


We mentioned the FCC RDOF program (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund) a few months back. Recall that Charter Communications submitted winning auction bids to receive federal subsidy funding for expansion of their cable service into Macon County and other parts of Western North Carolina. This has been of particular interest to those of us working on alternative broadband solutions, as approved federal subsidy programs granted in a specific area can make that same area ineligible for other funding programs.

The FCC must go through a thorough review and vetting process before they authorize a vender to actually proceed and receive subsidies for these winning auction bids. Though many hundreds of bids have already received authorization from the FCC, to date Charter has not received authorization for any of their bids nation wide.

It is not anticipated that any expansion by Charter into Macon County will be seen until 3-6 years after they receive authorization for bids. Though this means no help from Charter any time soon, it also means that many of the areas for which they won bids are still eligible for other grant funding.


Back in August, Macon County in partnership with Balsam West and support from Little T Broadband submitted an application to the NTIA Broadband Infrastructure grant program. NTIA was scheduled to announce winners of these grants on November 15, and to begin authorizing funding by November 29.

Earlier this week, Macon County and Balsam West received notification from NTIA that application selection and grant awards have been delayed until early 2022. NTIA received 230 applications totaling $2.5B for a grant program authorized to give out $288M in awards. Because of this 10x over subscription of the grant program, the NTIA has been a bit overwhelmed and must be extremely thorough in their review of applications and selection of winners.

Though there are other sources of funding that have been made available for broadband including the new federal infrastructure bill, it typically takes 6 months or more for federal and state agencies to draft and advertise grant programs to use these new funds, and another 6-18 months after that to solicit applications, select winers, and begin to distribute funds. As an example, the FCC RDOF program took funds allocated in 2019, conducted their auction and selected winners by the end of 2020, and has still not reviewed and authorized all funding as we approach the end of 2021.

The message here is that we must remain patient. Nothing happens quickly when the federal and state governments are involved.


SpaceX continues to be the golden child of the space launch industry, and they are continuing to boost more StarLink satellites into orbit. This has allowed them to expand the StarLink coverage areas, but their service rollout is moving at a much slower pace than they had planned.

I placed a deposit with StarLink in February of this year when they began accepting orders. For most of the year, my account listed that StarLink anticipated enabling service in our area by late 2021. I recently received an email from StarLink that their roll out has been delayed, and my account now lists availability in late 2022.

After following StarLink progress in the news, I have expected this letter and delay in service. Though there are many issues causing SpaceX to delay the rollout of their StarLink service, one of the more significant issues is related to their ability to produce the StarLink terminals (the receiver dish and router). Like every other company that uses electronics, SpaceX is experiencing significant delays in chip manufacturing. Shortages and delays in the computer chip industry have impacted product availability across the market, including iPhones, televisions, automobiles, etc.

Those of us that have been waiting on StarLink will have to wait a bit longer.

Construction Has Begun on the
South Macon Backbone!

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

We are pleased to announce that construction on the South Macon Backbone project has begun this week. The fiber backbone network will extend from the south end of Franklin city limits, down 441 to Brown Rd. From Brown Rd, it will extend along the Haywood EMC power poles over the ridge to the Tessentee valley, and then on up to Scaly Mountain. Eventually this backbone network will be extended along the Dillard Rd to Highlands. Balsam West is the provider that has planned and is coordinating this construction project.

This fiber backbone is the first phase of the South Macon Broadband Expansion Project which is a collaboration between Macon County, Balsam West, and LittleT Broadband. Creation of a backbone network is the first step required to bring high speed internet into the southern part of the county, and will support expansion of service into residential and business areas.

It has taken a substantial amount of work to reach this milestone. As you drive along 441 and see communication contractors burying orange and blue conduit or stringing fiber along poles, you might think of this as the first part of an iceberg sticking out of the water. Though you only see a little above water, there is a large amount of ice below water that cannot be seen. That part you cannot see represents several years of hard work to plan, develop relationships and agreements, secure funding, order materials, and finally to kick off construction.

Once the backbone network is complete to Scaly Mountain, as part of the agreement between Balsam West and Macon County, high speed internet service will be provided to the Otto and Scaly Mountain Community Centers, and to the Sky Valley-Scaly Mountain Volunteer Fire and Rescue facility. We are also pleased to announce that LittleT Broadband is being awarded a grant through the Western Regional Commission to fund the installation of public hotspots at the Otto and Scaly Mountain Community Centers, and the Sky Valley-Scaly Mountain VFR facility. These grant funds are being made available through the state of North Carolina Student Connect program.

LittleT has begun coordinating with the Community Association and the VFR organizations to plan creation of these public hotspots. Our goal is to light up all three hotspots in January 2022 when the backbone network is complete to Scaly Mountain.

With the completion of the backbone network, targeted for January 2022 barring weather or other unforeseen delays, the next phase of the South Macon Broadband Expansion Project will be to begin the work of extending high speed service into the surrounding community. Macon County in partnership with Balsam West currently has a grant application pending with the federal National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA). This grant funding, if received, will be used to fund creation of fiber to the home service in the East Otto, Scaly Mountain, and the Nantahala Lake communities. See our previous news post here.

Grant awards for this program will be announced by NTIA on November 15th, and these results will determine our next steps. If grant monies are received from NTIA, construction could immediately begin on the expansion from the South Macon backbone and at Nantahala Lake. If this grant application is rejected, we will need refocus our efforts to apply for other federal and state grant awards.

It is nice to have the opportunity to announce some visible progress. Thank you to all who have supported the efforts of LittleT broadband.

Funding Broadband in
Macon County - NTIA
Broadband Infrastructure Grant

The National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) of the US Dept of Commerce announced a grant funding opportunity this spring for broadband infrastructure. Though this $288M fund for the country is not as large as some of the recent FCC and USDA programs, it is a bit groundbreaking. Unserved areas, such as parts of Macon County, are more easily qualified for these funds, and it is specifically intended for public/private partnerships.

Macon County in partnership with Balsam West decided to apply for funds from this grant program to help cover the cost of constructing new fiber broadband networks in two parts of the county. The areas are illustrated in the following map.

NTIA Macon Overview 081721

The first proposed area in south Macon represents Phase 2 of the South Macon Broadband Expansion project that was kicked off last spring. Phase 1 of this project is currently funded and underway, and will construct a fiber backbone from Franklin to Scaly Mountain, making the Otto and Scaly Mountain Community Centers and the Sky Valley-Scaly Mountain Volunteer Fire & Rescue internet hotspots. Once the backbone is complete, Phase 2 calls for expansion of fiber broadband service from this backbone into the surrounding communities of East Otto and Scaly Mountain.

The second proposed area is located in the Nantahala township of northwest Macon. For this project, existing fiber broadband service that runs to Nantahala High School would be expanded into the community.

Development of this application was a true team effort. Macon County is the official grant applicant with Balsam West as the Internet Service Provider and development partner. The Dogwood Trust provided assistance by covering the cost of professional grant writing services, and LittleT Broadband provided GIS and data analysis support. The final application was submitted to NTIA on August 17.

It is expected that the grant awards will be announced by November 15, 2021. Though Macon County and its development partners are hopeful to win a grant from this program, the outcome of the process is not certain as it is a national competition for funds. For this reason, the application team is already setting its sights on the next funding opportunities that will become available later this year.

Where is StarLink?

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

Many in our area have been waiting patiently for the StarLink satellite internet service that is under development by SpaceX. I personally placed a deposit back in February of this year, but have not heard from the company yet. So, I have to assume that they are not ready to add service in our area.

To date, SpaceX has launched 1,650 StarLink satellites into low earth orbit out of a planned 12,000. The claim is that they should have minimal world-wide coverage by this fall. Earlier this year service was only offered in the higher latitudes - the Northern US, Canada, the UK, and Northern Europe. However, that continues to expand as more satellites are launched and put into service, and I have seen reports of beta test users in Alabama and other parts of the South.

The performance numbers that have been documented through the various speed test apps have been impressive. Though it varies from location to location, the StarLink service to date has been able to achieve an average download speed of 97 Mbps, with an average latency of around 45 ms. This places StarLink in a competitive position (performance wise) with fixed (land-based) broadband services. Clearly our slow Frontier DSL and satellite services from Hughes and Viasat don’t even come close.

At this time StarLink is still only offering beta service. This is not a full commercial internet service, as it is not available to all interested potential customers, does not have full regulatory approval from the FCC and other agencies, the final service costs and plans have not yet been established, and there are routine service outages as SpaceX works to dial in the new network, get more satellites in orbit, and build more base stations.

StarLink is not going to be a solution for everyone in our area. Due to the limited number of satellites in orbit, the StarLink transceiver dish must have clear open sky view down to 25 degrees above the horizon to the north. A single tree in within its line of site to a satellite can cause service disruption. Given the forested mountain ridges of our area, this will make good reception for many folks almost impossible. There is a StarLink phone app available to help one determine if a clear view can be provided for the dish. The hope is that this requirement will be relaxed over time.

When will the StarLink be available in our area? No one is really sure. The claim is that there will be more general availability of service by September, but this is not a certainty. Those that have already placed deposits with StarLink will be notified first, and general service announcements will come later. There is an expectation however, that the StarLink service will be generally available before new high speed broadband services are able to reach our homes, and this could provide some of us an internet solution while we wait for something better. Only time will tell.

In the mean time, we will watch the news, follow the progress, and continue to keep you informed.