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Otto Broadband build-out completes first phase, residential connections to come next 

The Macon County Board of Commissioners got an update from Jeff Lee with Little T Broadband Services, a 501(c3) non-profit organization that provides advocacy and support for the development of high-speed broadband in rural Western North Carolina, during last week’s monthly meeting. 

Lee informed commissioners that Little T Broadband along with the Macon County Broadband Committee had completed the first phase of the South Macon Expansion Project which included the installation of fiber down through Otto and up toward Highlands, connecting the Scaly Mountain Community Building. 

An easement agreement between BalsamWest and the Otto Community Development Organization allowed BalsamWest to place an equipment hut on the Otto Community Center property, which resulted in an internet hotspot doing live last week for the community. Lee explained that a similar agreement between Haywood EMC and BalsamWest in Scaly Mountain across from the fire station provides a community hot spot there for residents working from home or students needing to complete assignments. 

Phase one of the project finished building out the fiber backbone that will now support expansion into the surrounding communities. This allows BalsamWest to reach the small businesses along 441, that previously were in an underserved area for broadband. Living in the south Macon County area, Lee can attribute to the benefit this project will have on the community. 

“Little T Broadband served as a technical resource for the project, helping to align the needs of the partnership. We were also successful in securing grant funds through the Southwestern Commission to create hotspots at the community centers, making the fiber internet available for students and residents as a stop-gap measure until we are able to extend the fiber further into unserved areas,” said Jeff Lee, President/CEO of Little T Broadband.

Macon County has been a financial partner to the project which was critical to its success.

 “Macon County is committed to facilitating and incentivizing broadband investments in the County. Our partnership with Little T Broadband and BalsamWest has been a local effort of which we are proud to be a part,” says Commissioner Gary Shields. “We look forward to facilitating additional expansion as grants and other funds become available.”

BalsamWest is planning to launch their small business connect fund within the coming weeks. BalsamWest will waive any upfront charges to build to businesses within a certain footage of their fiber route. Fiber costs can be prohibitive for small businesses, making it nearly impossible to afford upfront fiber installation and build costs. BalsamWest is committed to eliminating these costs for their customers so they can receive the same high-quality fiber internet services that our region’s major institutions and businesses enjoy. 

“Our owners are committed to the small businesses, residents, and governments of Macon County and WNC, says Ryan Sherby, CEO of BalsamWest and that “This multi-faceted partnership is a testament to the strong collaboration of local companies, non-profits and governments who have been investing in Macon County and WNC for decades. We look forward to serving small businesses by offering an extremely reliable network supported by local dedicated staff.” 

Businesses outside of the US 441 south corridor may also be eligible for this offer.

provided the Board and meeting attendees with the current status of both efforts. Lee offered that despite both ambiguous Federal Communications Commission guidance and State legislative prohibitions, Little T and the Macon County Broadband Committee generated a Request for Proposal of $585,000 for the South Macon Expansion Project (SMEP) that has now blossomed into more than $1 million for funding.

The project will make accessible direct broadband connectivity to approximately 2,500 area residents and businesses and will run from Franklin to Highlands city limits, via Otto, Skyline, and Scaly Mountain. In addition to SMEP, it was announced Aug. 31, that Frontier Communications received a GREAT Grant Award of $3.8 million for expansion of its existing broadband network connectivity. GREAT Grant funding was born out of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (COVID-19 driven). This award is expected to yield broadband access for an additional 2,700 customers when completed.

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