Nantahala Township Broadband Expansion RFP Release

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

We are pleased to announce that Macon County in partnership with LittleT Broadband has released a Request For Proposals (RFP) to promote broadband expansion in the Nantahala Township. The Nantahala Township is a remote area in the northwest corner of Macon County surrounding Nantahala Lake. Residences and businesses in this area currently have no access to high-speed internet.

Like the South Macon areas of Otto and Scaly Mountain (Smithbridge and Flats Townships), the Nantahala Township is in need of some broadband infrastructure to allow expansion to homes and businesses in the area. Macon County is seeking proposals from qualified internet service providers to begin development of this needed infrastructure.

Read more about the Nantahala RFP here.

New FCC Broadband Availability Map

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

Broadband availability maps produced by the FCC are used to determine areas that are unserved by high-speed internet services so that these areas can be helped through grants and subsidies. Such maps and the data behind them are vital to the efforts of LittleT and others working to bring high-speed broadband solutions to rural western North Carolina. Sadly, in the past such maps have earned the reputation of being inaccurate and overstating the availability of broadband across the country, especially in rural areas. This complicates our job of seeking grant funding and subsidies, as these older maps show that more homes and businesses have access to high-speed services than is actually the case.

Knowing that these older maps have been problematic, back in 2020 congress passed legislation that mandated the creation of new FCC maps and a new broadband data collection system. The work to develop the new data collection system and maps has been ongoing for the past couple of years, and this past November the FCC released the first version of the new map which can be found here:

The number one goal of the new map is to accurately show where high-speed broadband services are available and not available, and to provide this information down to the individual household or business. As this is a new map generated by data from the new broadband data collection system, this first version is really considered a draft or preliminary release. It will likely take several years before the new system and maps become truly accurate.

Why is this important?

This new map is very important because it will be used as a basis for all future broadband grant and subsidy funding decisions. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), enacted in 2021 allocates $42.5B towards the development of broadband infrastructure. The IIJA legislation requires use of the new FCC broadband availability maps for allocation of this funding across the country.

This means that the new map will be used to determine which areas in North Carolina will be eligible for future broadband grant funding. Those locations that are unserved by existing high-speed broadband options and will not be served in the near future by other grants will be eligible for new funding.

How does this affect me?

The new map is interactive and provides the ability for individuals to look up their address and see what broadband options are reported as available at their location (home or business). If that information is not correct, you now have the ability to submit a correction. As more individual residents and businesses provide updates, the more accurate this map will become and the more areas in need will be able to get funding for broadband.

Our friends at the Swain County Broadband Committee have created a mailer and web page to let folks know about the map and to encourage and help them make updates. Rather than reinvent the wheel, please see their post card and website link below. All of this same information is applicable for Macon County as well.

SMTW FCC Post Card final 800px

I encourage all of you who are able to find your address on the new FCC map. Take a look at the information about your location and broadband services available. If you see something that is incorrect, follow the directions to submit an update.

If the map reports that a broadband service is available to your location, this is because the service provider has reported to the FCC that they either already serve your location or can provide service within 10 business days. If you would like to receive high-speed broadband service from this provider, go to their website and/or call them to request service.

If the provider responds that they are unable to provide service to your location, submit a correction to the FCC map and let us know via the "Contact Us" form on the website. We are already receiving reports of this for a number of the local providers. Keep in mind that the map is preliminary and that many providers are still reporting using some of the inaccurate and overstated methods of the past. As we are informed about inaccurate claims of service, we are compiling lists and will be working the Macon County Broadband Committee to challenge such claims with the FCC. The big change provided by the new map program is the ability for us all to report inaccurate claims of service and hold providers accountable.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Broadband Inquiries in South Macon

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

We have heard from many of you through the Contact Us form. The number one question asked goes something like... “I live on 123 road. When will fiber be coming to my home?” We try and respond to community members in all parts of the County seeking this info, and typically look up the address on a map to see if we are aware of any plans or work underway to develop broadband services to that location. Unfortunately the response is not always the one that we desire, but we try to provide as much accurate information as we have available.

Since the south Macon fiber backbone has been operational, the vast majority of inquires received in recent months are from folks who live somewhere near the fiber route asking about service. Many people have also been contacting Haywood EMC (HEMC) to ask the same question. Last month HEMC sent out the following email to their members (customers) in the South Macon area.

This message states that though they are working with internet providers to construct parts of a fiber network, they are not providing internet services directly and ask individuals to contact BalsamWest. To help clarify, BalsamWest is the service provider who has built portions of and is operating the South Macon Fiber Backbone and has agreements and a working relationship with HEMC to develop fiber within the HEMC customer areas of south Macon. HEMC owns some of the fiber that was used to create the backbone from Otto to Scaly Mountain and on to the Highlands city limits. As additional fiber is constructed to expand from the backbone, BalsamWest is working closely with HEMC to use their power pole infrastructure where possible to carry the fiber.

BalsamWest is actively working to expand fiber internet service in and arround the area of the south Macon fiber backbone. Many of the businesses along 441 are connected or are being connected as quickly as possible. Connection in Scaly Mountain is also beginning and plans are in development for further expansion along Dillard Rd to businesses residential communities. Although we would like it to happen next week, the reality is that fiber construction takes time and is constrained by funding and the availability of materials and labor.

The burning question for those that live near the fiber backbone route is how can I get connected. LittleT is not affiliated with nor acting as a agent for BalsamWest, and so our recommendation is to contact BalsamWest directly using the links or phone numbers blow. We have been told that BalsamWest logs and follows up on every request for service.

Residential:   BalsamWest Residential Service Request      (888) 225-7266
Business:      BalsamWest Business Service Request      (888) 225-7266

LittleT has had a number of meetings with BalsamWest representatives to help understand how we can assist our communities in getting connected.  Our mission is to get as many Otto and ScalyMountain residents connnected to high speed service as possible. The folks at BalsamWest recently sent us the following letter to pass on.

Letter from BalsamWest to the Otto and Scaly Mountain Communites

Please continue to reach out and contact LittleT if you have questions. We will work to provide the best answers available and direct you to a local provider where possible.

StarLink Has Finally Arrived…

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

… well, it has finally arrived at our house. I am sure many others are still waiting.

Since supporting rural broadband development in WNC has become a second career for me, I am painfully aware that our home is in an area that is unlikely to be served by fiber or other high-speed broadband solutions anytime soon. We live in a census block that is covered by RDOF, which means our area is not eligible for state and federal grant funding, and I am not optimistic that Charter Communications (RDOF winner) will complete their build commitments in Macon County by 2028. We have been fortunate enough to have 1.5Mbps Frontier DSL service that works most of the time, so our situation could be much worse. However when you depend on an internet connection for work and other activities, a 1.5Mbps DSL connection makes everything painful.

So back in February of 2021 we placed a deposit for StarLink service. I would like to say we waited patiently, but that patience was tested and we almost pulled the plug on our deposit several times. We were contacted by StarLink a few weeks ago that though our area is still waitlisted, we could go ahead and get connected under their “Best Effort” program available to those of us on the waitlist with deposits on file. It is also possible to bypass the StarLink waitlist by ordering the RV service, at a higher cost. More on that later. After a bit of research on other user’s experience with Best Effort service, we decide to proceed. Our terminal arrived last Monday.

StarLink is a fantastic technology that can deliver high-speed internet service better than any of the conventional satellite services, much faster than rural DSL and many fixed wireless services, and on par with some wired services. However, one must keep in mind that StarLink is still a new technology that is evolving, still being developed, and is going through growing pains. StarLink is not as fast and stable as fiber or cable services, but when those options are not available it can be an impressive solution.

StarLink is a relatively expensive service, though not as pricey and restricted as conventional satellite services. One is required to purchase the dish (user terminal) up front at the current price of $599 + tax and shipping. Of course most folks also require extra accessories to mount the dish somewhere which are all extra. Around $800 later you have your terminal and accessories delivered from California to your home. The residential service is $110/mo and there is no discount if you are receiving the Best Effort service. If you choose to get the RV service, the performance is the same as Best Effort residential, the standard user terminal cost is the same, and the service charge is $135/mo. There are additional options for connectivity and service, but all are at much higher price points than basic residential and RV. StarLink does not participate in the federal ACP program (Affordable Connectivity Program), so the entry and monthly costs for the most basic service are a significant barrier for those households without the financial means. The service cost and lack of ACP support were two major factors that pushed the FCC to remove StarLink from the RDOF subsidy program last summer.

Within an hour or two of FedEx delivering our user terminal, I had the system up and running. Very impressive. We live in a creek valley and have a relatively open area for the dish, allowing setup with minimal/no obstructions. With StarLink, obstructions of clear northerly sky view cause regular/predictable service outages. In our case, with the dish sitting out in the grass and the cable running across the ground to our front porch, we started to receive internet service. I did learn overnight why sitting on the grass out in a field is not the best place to locate the dish… grazing deer can cause serious satellite obstructions. ;)

I got the dish mounted on a post (above deer height) and connected into our home network the next day. Still more work to do in making the installation permanent, but I must say that we have been pretty impressed so far. Even with Best Effort service we are seeing download speeds ranging from 5-145Mbps and upload speeds ranging 1.5-12Mbps. The speed varies depending on the time of day, and it appears the slow speeds are intermittent (not continuous) during peak usage hours. Most of the time the average speed is in the 40/8 range… amazingly better than DSL.

Though StarLink officially declared that beta testing was over in October 2021, to some extent I still consider the service in beta (under development). Even with a perfectly clear sky view (required for best reception), the StarLink network experiences continual small disruptions, outages, and other glitches. These typically only last a few seconds, and for most people using the service for web surfing, email, streaming, etc. these glitches go unnoticed. However for those who require a reliable continuous connection for applications like zoom, webex, teams, VPN, etc., the glitches can cause disconnection. StarLink also has some other issues which create complications for more advanced users. For example it is not possible to open virtual port connections on your router through StarLink and allow remote connections to your home.

In spite of the glitches and other nuances of StarLink, we have been pretty impressed with the service this week. It seems relatively unaffected by Nicole as the storm drops inches of rain on us. For the time being, we plan to keep our DSL service active. I currently have Frontier set up as a backup should there be any outages in the StarLink system. After we have had more time with StarLink and have more confidence in the service, we hope to drop DSL.

Broadband Update - Nov 11, 2022

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

Though there are still many things happening related to broadband in Macon County, it has been relatively quiet for the past month or so without major headlines and big public announcements.

South Macon

The South Macon Broadband Project continues to evolve, though at a slower pace than earlier this year. The community facility public hot spots are all active and we have been able to expand high-speed internet service into the fire department offices both in Otto and Scaly Mountain. BalsamWest is steadily working to connect businesses along 441, and is beginning to do so now in Scaly Mountain.

Residential expansion is beginning to happen in South Macon, but very slowly. The original hope was that state grant funding would allow this expansion to move more quickly. Since no state grants have been awarded for this project, communities can only be addressed one-by-one and street by street.

If you live near the new fiber backbone or in an area served by a another provider and wish to see expansion of high-speed service into your community, please contact LittleT through the Contact Us form on the website. We can discuss your area, the requirements to get such a project going, and help make contact with the appropriate provider.


Frontier, the GREAT grant winner for Macon County in 2022, is currently in a holding pattern on their deployment effort. All GREAT grant awardees state-wide are waiting on NCDIT (North Carolina Department of Information Technology) to develop and finalize grant agreements. Grant award funding does not flow and providers will not start building until these are finalized.

The hope is that these agreements will be completed by the end of the year so that Frontier can begin construction in early 2023. They will have until Dec 31, 2024 to provide fiber service to 2700 location county-wide. Once a grant agreement is in place, we will be working with Frontier to learn and publish their timeline for construction around the County.

Other Activities

The Macon County Broadband Committee is continuing to explore new opportunities for broadband expansion around the County. The NC CAB grant program will be starting up after the first of the year, and we are actively looking at areas were these funds might be applied. The Committee is also exploring the possibility of developing a project similar to the South Macon effort in another part of the County.

GREAT Grant Award for Macon County

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

On August 31st, the NC Department of Information and Technology announced a third round of grants for the GREAT grant program. For Macon County, an award was granted to Frontier Communications.

Frontier’s application proposes to serve 2700 locations across the county (North, Central, and South) with new fiber to the home (premises) service. Per the rules of the GREAT program, Frontier will have until Dec 31, 2024 to complete this project and provide service to the above locations.

The Macon County Broadband Committee will be meeting with Frontier representatives in the coming weeks to go over their plans and build timeline in detail. As these discussions progress, agreements are signed, and more details become available, we will provide updates on how this program will affect Macon residents.

BalsamWest South Macon Fiber Press Release

Please find the attached press release from BalsamWest.