LittleT Broadband Update for October

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

LittleT Broadband is continuing the work to pursue development and deployment of high-speed internet in Otto and Scaly Mountain. As we have mentioned in previous updates, the biggest obstacle is to secure funding to build the network backbone and infrastructure needed to deliver high-speed data to homes and businesses in our area. As we all know, our terrain and sparse population make this an expensive proposition, that no for-profit company has been willing to undertake without financial assistance.

During early October, the LittleT tech team worked with Balsam West and the Southwestern Commission to help prepare materials for an application to the NC GREAT 2020 CARES Act Supplementary Round grant program. The application was completed and submitted on October 14. The goal is to obtain and use NC GREAT grant funding to help build the network infrastructure needed to reach homes and businesses from the proposed backbone.

So, what has happened with the backbone network project?

As mentioned in the September update, progress was made with Macon County, and the commissioners approved an RFP (Request For Proposals) back in early August for broadband expansion in south Macon. Winning the RFP comes with the promise of grant funds. The intended usage of the associated grant is to fund the construction of the critical backbone network that will bring connectivity to Otto and Scaly from the Franklin city limits.

The county attorney's office and NCIT Broadband division were unable to release the RFP until October 2nd. The timing of this actually worked in our favor, as it allowed focus on the NC GREAT grant application earlier in the month. With work on the GREAT application behind us, we have recently been engaged with Balsam West in helping to prepare materials for the RFP response, which is due Monday, Nov 2.

With funding applications and responses submitted, we hope to hear outcomes on these initiatives in the December timeframe. Of course these outcomes will dictate our next steps.

Thanks to all for your continued support.



LittleT Broadband Needs Help

Tony Deakins, LittleT Broadband

LittleT Broadband Services has recently made substantive progress with the county in working with BalsamWest FiberNet to pull backbone fiber from Addison Bridge Road to connect with Haywood EMC’s fiber at Brown Road. That will carry the backbone up into Scaly Mountain, from where additional fiber will be installed to complete the backbone connection to Highlands. We are now focused on the distribution planning, including raising money, funding grants, and other funding vehicles to reduce the actual cost of connecting homes and businesses to the backbone. Also, there are grants that must be ready to leverage that subsidize the monthly billing once connections have been established.

To that end, we are URGENTLY seeking volunteers to work with our board and our partners — Balsam and Haywood — to identify grant/funding opportunities and to develop the applications as required. We urgently need people who have skills, experience and/or good research talents. The success we have with funding will affect how fast we can distribute broadband access services and what the services will ultimately cost.

For more information about volunteering to help, or for questions, go to the "Contact Us" page. Thank you for helping us help your community to obtain broadband access!

New RFP Approved by Macon County

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

A recent article in the Macon County news has prompted a number of questions from Otto and Scaly Residents.

Specifically, how does this RFP (Request For Proposals) affect the work in progress by LittleT Broadband?

The short answer is that this RFP was created on our behalf.

As you may recall, the Macon County Commissioners voted last September to allocate grant money for LittleT Broadband to support planning work on a network for the Otto and Scaly Mtn areas. This approval was given provisionally, pending review by the county attorney. This money was never given to LittleT, as the county attorney believes that NC counties do not have the legal authority to provide grant money in that way.

Much of the planning and initial engineering work for which that initial money was targeted has now been accomplished through other means. We worked with our partners Balsam West and Haywood EMC to develop a detailed plan. This plan was then forwarded to the county.

Fast forward to this past spring. After several rounds of meetings and discussions between Macon County officials, Balsam West, and Little T, a new request was made for the $580K which is mentioned in the RFP. This money is targeted to fund the construction of a fiber backbone leg from Franklin to Otto, where it will meet up with other fiber owned by Haywood EMC. Other portions of the backbone network are being funded through other means. Currently, no high-speed network extends through the Otto and Scaly areas, so construction of this new backbone is vital for any high-speed internet development/expansion whatsoever.

Though most of the commissioners have been very supportive, the county attorney insisted that the only way the money could be allocated was as a grant awarded via an RFP to an established ISP (Internet Service Provider). So at the request of the county attorney, an RFP was drafted by the NC DIT Broadband Division, and the commissioners officially approved it this past week.

Though the RFP is worded (as required by NC law) to be open to any internet service provider, to our knowledge there are no other providers with plans ready to create the needed expansion and waiting to respond and bid on this. Little T is working directly with Balsam West to prepare and deliver an RFP response to Macon County. The expansion plan for southern Macon County is the one that has already been developed by Little T and Balsam West, and Balsam West is the designated ISP.

Though we were hoping to avoid a forced jump through this hoop, it is indeed progress.

Community Broadband Survey Results

Bill Kirkman, Little T Broadband volunteer

Recently on CBS Sunday Morning there was a segment on “The great broadband divide: Living without high-speed internet access”. Microsoft completed a study that was quoted in the piece showing 162 million Americans don't have broadband internet access. As of 2015, the FCC defines broadband as a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. The US census bureau estimates the US population July 2019 was 328 million. Half of the US population is unable to access broadband internet service.

The show also states the average download speed in the US is 133 Mbps. According to the Little T Broadband survey, the average for Scaly Mountain and Otto community is 1.3 Mbps (1% of the national average). Your survey feedback provides insight into how we as a community, and you individually, are impacted by this lack of broadband service.

Between March and June this year Little T Broadband asked the Scaly Mountain and Otto communities for feedback about their access and desire for broadband internet. Since the survey was web based, responses are skewed towards those that have internet access. Likely, there is a significant percentage of folks who did not participate in the survey process because they do not have internet access, were not aware, or had no way to communicate information to Little T Broadband.

The response was tremendous with 225 responses representing 8% of the Otto and Scaly Mountain property parcels. Responses were equally spread between Otto and Scaly Mountain with 96% of the responses from residences and 4% from businesses. Here is what the survey said:

Almost everyone sees the value in internet access:

  • 60% interested in extended Internet
  • 39% interested in basic internet

Current internet provider satisfaction (scale of 1 Very Dissatisfied to 5 Very Satisfied)

  • 1.99 average satisfaction across all providers
  • 1.87 satisfaction with Frontier (67% of survey respondents with internet service)
  • 2.4 satisfaction with Morris (5% of respondents)
  • 2.22 satisfaction with Other (likely satellite) (27% of respondents)

Internet usage:

  • 110 tele-work from home
  • 52 have students in the home
  • 36 use medical devices requiring internet access

Additional related services in which community members are interested:

  • 60% TV services
  • 53% Telephone
  • 24% Security

Cellular coverage

  • 54% of respondents have No Cellular coverage
  • 23% have LTE/4G
  • 13% have 3G
  • 9% have 1x 

Perhaps the most insightful section of the survey is the Additional Comments section. A universal theme seems to be that “Everyone no matter how rural should have good services for health and safety.”

For those that have internet service it is often unreliable in both speed and connectivity:

“Connection speed is variable during the day. The download speed is frequently less than what was reported in this survey and it is seldom much better.“

“Internet service is inconsistent and weak when we have it at all. Have given up on entertainment but can’t forfeit health and economical features that are as necessary as indoor plumbing.”

Many residents require reliable Broadband internet service for their jobs, and some are unable to live in our community because of the lack of service:

“Please help! My job is dependent upon internet and cell service. Am tired of going to the library to work!”

“My wife works from home 100% of the time, often her work requires a high-speed Internet connection. She has to leave home and go use Internet connection at a friend’s house with better service.”

“We have operated a business at our location in Scaly Mountain… which has been extremely difficult at times with little to no internet service. Cannot tell you the days that we have not been able to run credit card charges when checking in guests or when trying to add payment for services. …not being able to send and receive email or to bring up websites or… access many pieces of software that we use in our business.”

“…family, with a student, moved away due to lack of internet service in this area. They needed it to work from home and for student’s homework. They would seriously consider coming back if there was internet service.”

“I bought the house 3 years ago and I planned on moving there full time after 2 years of owning but I can’t because I cannot get internet service there. I’m a transplant pharmaceutical rep and cover Tenn / Ga. Which Scaly is the perfect location but I can’t work from home because I can’t get internet service much less even try to make a call on my cell phone…. This is ridiculous and I may have to sell because I can never live and work there. I had no idea that western NC would be like a 3rd world when it came to internet and cell phone coverage.”

“As a realtor it is sometimes difficult to complete sales in many areas of Scaly due to lack of or caliber of cell service. Many potential buyers are younger families from Atlanta who work remotely with national and international companies.”

It is clear there is a strong need for reliable high-speed internet service in the Scaly Mountain and Otto communities. Little T Broadband is a nonprofit organization staffed by volunteers that seeks to bring high-speed fiber-based internet service to our communities. It is a monumental task that will require substantial funding. We are well on our way developing local partnerships with Haywood EMC, BalsamWest and obtaining support from Macon county.

Thank you for providing feedback through the survey. It provides essential insight to better understand the communities needs and desires. The Little T Broadband team will use this information to guide future decisions and actions.


StarLink and Southern Macon County

In the past several months there have been quite a few news articles and discussions about a new internet service under development by SpaceX called StarLink. We have received a number questions and comments from residents in our area about the availability of this service, and whether or not it might be preferable to the network that is being developed by LittleT and its partners.

StarLink will be a new satellite-based internet service. The big difference between this new service and existing satellite services like Hughesnet and Viasat, is that the StartLink satellites are being placed in low earth orbit (LEO) instead of high earth or geosynchronous orbit (342 miles altitude vs 22,236 miles altitude). This will allow StarLink to deliver their internet signal at a much lower latency than conventional satellite systems making it more usable and competitive with ground-based systems. However this low earth orbit is also the source for a number of the controversies that SpaceX is facing regarding their plans, as it requires thousands of satellites to cover their service area.

A system like StarLink has never been built before, and the development is still very new, so there are still many unknowns about the service.


The actual cost for service once available is unknown. The speculation from comments by Elon Musk is that the base service will run in the $80-$100 range, with a one time cost of $200-$300 for the receiver terminal and router. However, SpaceX is spending billions of dollars to build and launch all of the satellites, and to build all of the receiver terminals required to make the service possible. At some point they will need to recoup their massive investment costs through service contracts, and so actual service cost will be dependent on adoption rate and any subsidies or grants they are able to win.

Legal Battles

The placement of low earth orbit satellites in large numbers has already started to have an impact on the night sky and astronomy. This has brought the SpaceX and its StarLink program under fire and the target of injunctions and lawsuits all over the world. It remains to be seen how effective SpaceX will be in defending their program and addressing the unintended impacts of their satellite constellation. Low earth orbit satellites are also not fixed in position, meaning they constantly move through the sky as they fly around the globe. There are currently a number countries voicing objections about the StarLink satellites flying over their space.

Permission and Licensing

Though SpaceX has secured permission from the US and Canada, they are still in negotiations with the EU, Russia, and elsewhere to obtain rights to operate and fly satellites beyond the North American continent. Foreign agency and legal challenges of this nature can be very time consuming and expensive.

Availability of Service

This is by far the most asked question. The StarLink service offering is dependent on the number of satellites in place, which makes availability dependent on satellite production and launch schedules. The launch schedules are directly impacted by weather, and also affected and can be delayed by permission and licensing.

As of the latest launch this past spring, SpaceX plans to begin private beta testing by fall 2020, with a public beta to start a few months later. At present, SpaceX only has enough satellites aloft (420) to provide service between 44 and 52 degrees latitude. This means you will need to live in a narrow strip of North America between Chicago and Vancouver to initially receive the StarLinik signal. Beta testing of service in the Southern US will not start until sometime in 2021, depending on how long it takes for SpaceX to get hundreds or thousands of additional satellites into space, in position, and active. Availability of actual paid service will not start until all the testing has been completed, so maybe end of 2022 or a bit later for this area if all goes well, and SpaceX does not encounter any significant snags or delays.

What is Latency, and Why does it Matter

Latency is the measure of time it takes between your actions on a device or computer and when servers on the internet respond back to you. Latency can have a very big impact on the usability of your internet service. If all you do is stream Netflix or Hulu and send a few emails, latency does not matter a great deal. However if you tele work from home, wish to use Zoom or WebEx, etc., latency can have a huge impact.

Any latency measurement under 100ms (mili seconds) is considered acceptable, and this number is the maximum threshold the FCC allows for an internet service provider to qualify for specific federal grants and loans. Traditional high earth orbit Satellite systems can only deliver an internet signal with very large latencies, typically more than 500ms. This is mostly due to the very high altitude (22,236miles) of the satellites, and as such traditional satellite internet services are ineligible for many federal grant programs.

SpaceX claims that StarLink will be able to deliver latencies lower than 50ms, which is on par with ground-based networks. This is feasible because of the low earth altitude of the StarLink satellites (342miles), but also has yet to be demonstrated as there are many other factors that contribute to latency besides satellite altitude. The FCC has stated that they are not convinced it will be possible to acheive less than 100ms, even for a LEO satellite-based delivery system. If StarLink is unable to deliver less than 100ms of latency, SpaceX will not be eligible for many federal grants and subsidies that might offset costs to rural areas such as ours, and possibly keeping the cost of the StarLink service relatively high to all.

Performance and Reliability

SpaceX claims that StarLink will be able to deliver 1 Gbps service, which is competitive with cable or fiber internet. That remains to be demonstrated, but it is likely that they will eventually get there. Like all internet delivery systems, StarLink will suffer from congestion during times of high usage. However, because it uses thousands of satellites vs one or two fixed satellites, it should be able to perform better than conventional satellite-based systems. How well the StarLink system will perform under load remains to be seen.

StarLink is still a satellite wireless internet system, and all wireless delivery systems are impacted by weather and other atmospheric conditions. This means that StarLink will experience weather related performance drops and outages similar to Hughesnet and Viasat.

What About Other LEO Internet Services Competing with StarLink

Amazon Kuiper Project Though Kuiper just received FCC approval, and Jeff Bezos says he is investing $10B, they do not have published plans to launch their first satellite until 2026. Much can happen between now and then, including SpaceX completely dominating the market.

OneWeb (formerly WorldVu) OneWeb filed for chapter 11 backruptcy back in March of 2020 and laid off most of its employees. Though they have a handful of satellites aloft that they are continuing to maintain, they will have to struggle through bankruptcy and hope for future investments if they are allowed by the courts to continue. Most consider them dead at this point.

Telesat LEO Telesat launched a single demo satellite back in 2018, but have yet to move forward with their LEO program. They are proposing a different approach, as their platform will use 5G wireless vs a proprietary internet link. How this plays out remains to be seen.

Our view is that LEO internet is so closely tied to launch capability, only SpaceX has a shot of making this work right now. They can absorb/amortize much of the StarLink launch costs in with their other launch business. None of the other players yet have this ability, which is a huge hurdle for them to be competitive. Also, as low earth space begins to be filled with these satellites, it is believed that there will be more push back due to the night sky clutter and other impacts of the technology.


In contrast to StarLink, the network under development by LittleT and its partners will be a ground-based fiber to the home (FTTH) system. When the fiber choice is available, it provides the greatest reliability, highest available speeds, and best future growth potential. Fiber is a proven technology that is well understood, and eligible for all federal and state grants and subsidies.

StarLink is definitely a promising new technology. Given the track record of SpaceX, and the potential revenue to be gained by providing this service globally, it will happen. However history shows that it will likely take longer to reach the masses than the claims. There are just too many hurdles and obstacles for SpaceX to overcome for there to be no delays. StarLink may ultimately become a viable alternative internet source for many Southern Macon County residents by the end of 2022 or later. The good thing about having viable alternatives is competition, and its effect on lowering service cost.

LittleT June Update

Tony Deakins, Little T Broadband

LTBS has concluded its survey of residents and businesses within its service area. The overall response exceeded expectations, and your individual responses were extremely informative. We now are working through the process of distilling data into information, and will report more on that in the next update toward the end of July~early August. Again, thank all of you who responded to the survey. 

The engineering on "Fast Start" has been completed from an LTBS perspective. This led to further collaboration with the Macon County Board of Commissioners and BalsamWest FiberNet. That collaboration has culminated into a funding plan being developed by the County and BalsamWest. The 'particulars' of that plan should be finalized prior to the end of July; hopefully in time to be described in the July update. 

The funding plan through the County will cover the US 441 leg of Fast Start. The response from the Golden Leaf Fund for the Highlands leg is still pending. While it is the smaller of the two 'legs' to be completed via Fast Start, its importance is, nonetheless, mission critical.

Going forward, we still need to raise more funding to enable distribution of services beyond Fast Start via grants both from government and private providers. To that end, we need all the help we can get in the area of grant research and writing ... and, eventually grant management. 

We also want to assist our two community associations in finding grants and other funding to start working on local programs assisting residents and businesses through the combination of community resources and high-speed internet access. Now is the time to start making actionable all of those good ideas we all have expressed regarding the community value-add were broadband available.

In this period of pandemic constraints on "normal" life, we need to look forward, in a planning sense, to when Covid-19 is suppressed but the changes it's made to our lives continue. These chances include telemedicine, remote learning, the educational "slide", etc.  Those having access to broadband will, I imagine, transition fine, grow, and prosper. Those without, will doubtlessly struggle with a reduced quality of life. We can't let that be us. 

Thank You To All That Participated in the Little T Survey

As of 4:00PM today, we have closed down the Little T Survey.

Thank you to all who participated and provided valuable information about the internet services in our area, and your desires for new service. We are working to tally results and will post a summary in the coming days.