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From the mountains of western North Carolina, the Town of Highlands has issued a request for proposals (RFP) in search of a network administrator for its Fiber-to-the-Home and fixed wireless network, Altitude Community Broadband.
The town began the network in 2015, after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) struck down a state law that prevented local governments from building broadband networks. However, the FCC ruling was later overturned by a federal court, and now the city is on the hunt for a private partner to lease and operate its network.
Proposals are due Friday, September 4 at 3 p.m. eastern time.
Altitude’s Highs and Lows
Highlands has a year-round population of only about 1,000 people, but the town and surrounding area balloon in size to nearly 20,000 during the summer when seasonal residents and tourists flock to the region for the cool mountain climate and outdoor recreation opportunities.
The community founded Altitude in 2015, when the state restriction on municipal broadband was briefly overturned by the FCC before being reinstated by a federal court. The North Carolina law in question, HB 129, places various requirements and limitations on cities that want to invest in broadband, with the effect of basically prohibiting municipal networks in the state. For an in-depth look at HB 129, listen to Community Broadband Bits episode 412. (It’s a two-parter!)
Highlands, North Carolina, deployed a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure and fixed wireless complement to serve the community. The small rural community has been operating the municipal network in the Appalachians since late 2015, but is now considering passing the mantle to a private partner. They recently released a Request for Information (RFI) and responses are due June 9th.
High In The Appalachians
Tourism is one of the town’s staple economies, as it’s known for its natural surroundings atop the Nantahala National Forest in the mountains. While less than 1,000 people live in the town all year, summer tourists swell the population to around 20,000. There are several country clubs nearby that cater to the affluent second-home owners in Highlands and there are at least 500 homes that are valued at $1 million or more.
The FTTH network does not serve the entire community. Local leaders want the network available to the entire community, in part to keep second home owners in Highlands for extended periods of time. With better connectivity, many could work from home. The community also operates a municipal electric utility that owns 2,600 utility poles and 110 miles of line, most of it aerial. Interestingly, the Highlands Electric Utility serves over 3,000 accounts, some in the suburban Atlanta areas.
Highlands issued the RFI to search out provider that would be interested in expanding the FTTH network and acquiring more customers for the network as a whole. They still want to own the infrastructure, but hope to attract a provider willing to lease the existing network and add to it.
Read the rest of the RFI.
Responses are due Friday, June 30th.
Highlands is a small community of less than 1,000 residents located in the Nantahala National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains. Along the western tip of the state, Highlands faces the same problem as many other rural communities - poor connectivity. In order to bring high-quality Internet access to residents and businesses, Highlands has implemented a plan to deploy city-owned Internet network infrastructure.
A Connected Escape Up In The Mountains
Highland entertains a large number of summer tourists who flock to its high altitude to escape summer heat and humidity. Summer visitors can fill the city’s six square miles and surrounding area with up to 20,000 people. The city operates a municipal electric utility along with water, sewer, and garbage pick up.
To round off the list of offered services and bring better connectivity to the community, Highlands created the Altitude Community Broadband. In January, the Town Board authorized to borrow $40,000 from its General Fund and $210,000 from its Electric Enterprise Fund to deploy and launch the new service. The loan will be repaid with revenue from the new service.
The town has long-term plans to offer both Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless service to residents and businesses in the downtown area. Fiber is already available in limited areas within Highlands proper; pricing is available on a case-by-case basis. The landscape is rugged, so residents outside of the city may not be able to transition to FTTH, reported a December HighlandsInfo Newspaper, but the fixed wireless access is still an affordable and workable option in a place considered a poor investment by large providers.
Residential options for Altitude Wireless Internet Access are: