Broadband committee formed in Haywood

By Jessi Stone, Assistant editor | Jul 28, 2014

In a study conducted by the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) last year, results showed that only 15 percent of respondents in western North Carolina enjoy Internet access that meets the Federal Communications Commission's minimum speeds.

Those conditions are not conducive to attracting new industry and growing existing businesses in Haywood County. To address the lack of broadband access, a committee has been formed in Haywood County to examine and expand broadband capability for local residents and businesses in the mountains.

While Haywood has broadband access, the bandwidth is limited and doesn’t accommodate the growing need. In general terms, bandwidth means the amount of data that can be carried from one point to another in a short amount of time.

Maggie Valley Mayor Ron DeSimone serves on the county economic development authority and has been pushing for several years to get better broadband capabilities in the mountains.

“Every time I talk to a perspective employer, their first or second issue is broadband access and the amount of bandwidth we get,” he said at a recent Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen meeting. “In today’s world, broadband access is just as important as water and sewer… We pay more for less than anywhere else in the country.”

The broadband committee is made up of DeSimone, Maggie Valley businessman Jim Blyth, two Haywood County commissioners, county IT employees and EDC Director Mark Clasby.

The committee will be gathering information about the current service available, needed infrastructure and creating a possible client base. DeSimone said the committee would have a booth set up at the Haywood County Fair in August to pass out questionnaires about residents’ current access.

In addition to meeting industry needs, DeSimone said there were a number of people working for large corporations around the nation who want to semi-retire in Haywood County and work from home. However, they need more reliable broadband to work from home in Haywood.

With the current infrastructure available, he said current local providers can only offer 3 to 6 megabits of broadband, and residents are paying the same amount most people pay for 20-50 megabits elsewhere. The idea is to be able to have providers offering 20 to 30 MB of broadband.

“This is about economic development, it’s about opportunities for residents and businesses and it’s about options — the more options we have, the better off we are,” DeSimone said.

He said he was in the process of talking to current and perspective providers about what issues they face in offering better broadband services. If more providers can offer services in Haywood County, rates would begin to decrease because of competition.

In 2011, North Carolina received about $255 million in federal stimulus grants to extend broadband throughout the state and construction began on a new fiber optics line that runs run from Enka to Sylva, directly through Haywood County along U.S. 19/23.

DeSimone said that project was like installing the major highway, but now exit ramps need to be built to get the service out to the rural communities.

Haywood County owns a fiber optic line that runs from Haywood Community College to the sheriff’s office in Hazelwood, but it’s not as easy as connecting the Internet to that line. As he’s dived into the process of getting better service, DeSimone said that line would have to get connected to service in a hub like Atlanta to make it active.

“I’m working with Charter and trying to find out what it would cost to get a 10 gigabit pipeline in Atlanta pumped through the line the county owns,” he said.

Providers like Charter and AT&T own their own fiber lines, but other smaller providers like Mountain Cable have to buy smaller lines.

DeSimone said the smaller providers have to pay premium dollar just to offer two to three gigs at a time.

“If we can get a 10 gig pipeline, we could then provide service at cost,” DeSimone said, adding that any provider could use the pipeline to offer more bandwidth to customers at a cheaper rate.

The committee had its first meeting in July and will plan a second meeting in early August. DeSimone said he doesn’t know yet how any of this would be funded yet but there are some grants out there that could help.

Comments (5)
Posted by: Cliff Pettit | Jul 28, 2014 07:40

Congratulations, Mayor.  I have two friends who did not buy houses in Maggie because of the poor Internet connections.  Let's upgrade and allow these people to move into our community.

 

 



Posted by: June D. Johnson | Jul 28, 2014 08:32

This past weekend I became acutely aware of the snail-like speed of Maggie's Internet connections.  I went to Blacksburg, VA, to begin work on setting up a website for our community gardens.  It was astounding to see how rapidly the webmaker and I were able to move from site to site. When I returned home to practice my newfound computer skills, it took three to four times as long to move from one site to another, or to move material from one location to another.  Prior to this experience, internet speed had not been a major concern...and I am attempting merely to facilitate management of six community gardens.  I can't imagine how difficult it would be for a full-blown business to try to operate in this time-consuming manner.  I now see this as a worthy EDC initiative.  The days of snail-mail, advertising with signs, billboards and Yellow Pages, much less management of a for-profit business, are over.

 



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jul 28, 2014 08:38

"The idea is to be able to have providers offering 20 to 30 MB of broadband." -- That's WAY too much for a residence.  I work for one of the largest tech companies in the world and the largest demand I can place on my internet is about 1Mb for streaming video.  If you have HD streaming video, that takes a little more -- but well under 5Mb... and that kind of video isn't what businesses use anyway.

 

There are 3 things to consider here:

 

1) Local internet companies need a big connection into their facilities so they can chop it up into what goes into individual homes and companies.  That 10Gb pipe -- that's something an internet company would use.  I would be surprised if that connection didn't already exist.  It could be that AT&T and Charter share that kind of connection if there is only one into the area.

 

2) Companies that have hundreds of computers tied to a shared network might make use of a 20-30Mb internet connection -- if that's what you want your employees to do all day.  Typically though internet to office computers is monitored (and in some cases restricted) so that 20Mb is more than enough.  Companies also can use prioritization so that what internet connection is available is first used for things like video conferencing (delay or buffering is bad) and last used for e-mail (a few seconds or a minute for an e-mail to go through doesn't hurt).

 

3) The "last-mile" connection into homes is what is usually costly -- especially in rural or low-density places.  And being a work-from-home IT professional, there is no legitimate business need I can think of that requires more than 5MB at the most.  Video conferencing is the largest demand a business professional can put on an internet connection.  That usually consumes about 1Mb -- but can be as much as 5Mb in some of the high-dollar ($250k) setups typically not found in homes.  THAT is where the biggest price reduction can come in play.  When towns only have one provider that owns the poles and the wires to each home, you see higher prices.  I don't know the history here but I've seen towns that allow a single company to have exclusive access to the residents in exchange for sweetheart deals  like government cable channels.  And I've seen towns allow exclusive access to residents as a lure to get companies to build infrastructure in the town.  The lack of competition causes higher prices but companies like that and are more inclined to invest in the area to get higher profits.  Socializing more internet connections into the area might signal existing phone and cable companies that further investment into the area might not pay off in the near future.  Kind of a double-edged sword.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jul 28, 2014 09:04

I find this free service to be a reliable indicator of "internet performance":

 

http://www.speedtest.net/

 

"the snail-like speed of Maggie's Internet connections" -- There are three things that will cause poor internet performance:

 

1) Latency.  This is measured in ms.  This is how long it takes for a signal to get from your device to the device you want to communicate.  If the computers with websites you want to manage are "close" to your computer, you will get better performance than if they are further away.  Keep in mind that some internet connections require you to route through Atlanta or Charlotte before talking to a computer that might be physically next door to you in Haywood County.

 

2) Bandwidth.  That's what the 10Mb and 20Mb connection is all about.  It's the "diameter of the pipe" that makes the difference.  Keep in mind that even a large pipe that is very long will still seem "slow" in some instances.  And if you're using an old WiFi connected device, the "pipe" connecting your computer to your 20Mb internet connection might only be 5.5Mb.  So it could be your own wireless device slows you down so that you never see the other 75% of your 20Mb connection.

 

3) Congestion.  If you have a 20Mb connection to your cable or phone provider, they still need to connect you to whatever you're trying to do.  If they only have 100Mb to the next large connection, then only 5 people can pull 100% of their bandwidth before the next person slows down everyone else.  This is sometimes called "oversubscription".  If this is what is slowing you down, the "speed test" I provided above will give better results at off-peak hours than during peak hours.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jul 28, 2014 09:15

(PS -- For #3 above, the "congestion" can be with "your internet provider" or "their internet provider" or even somewhere in between.  If you performance is ok for some websites and not for others, then it's likely not your connection that is limiting you.)



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