Survey aims to prove rural Internet need to companies

When the sun sets in rural Fines Creek, the little community library gets bumping.

It may be after-hours, but any given evening, a steady stream of cars comes from miles to sit in the parking lot. It’s the newest take on the long-standing tradition of parking, except this love affair is between man and his computer.

Tribal Council approves $10 million for new tech, organizational overhaul

fr broadbandScanty wireless networks, outdated computer equipment, slow servers — technological woes have been a centerpiece of discussion at Cherokee Tribal Council meetings for quite some time. After months of introducing resolutions only to table them and hours-long meetings with finance, technology and broadband leaders, Council this month took action on a slate of legislation designed to give some direction to the technology overhaul and designate funds with which to do it. 

Broadband survey needs more rural responses

Haywood County leaders are still in the process of collecting data on broadband Internet service, but they need help from residents living in rural parts of the county. 

Maggie Valley Mayor Ron DeSimone sits on the Haywood County Economic Development Commission and is heading up the effort to bring better broadband service to the county.

Cherokee navigate the business side of Internet for all

fr broadbandIt’s been more than eight years since the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians made its first move toward creating a business to bring Internet to the Qualla Boundary, but the issue has proven a good bit more complicated than first expected.

Haywood launches survey to access internet availability

The folks spearheading the effort to expand broadband access in Haywood County are thinking big. Gigabyte big. 

“Our goal is to make Haywood County a gigabyte community,” said Ron DeSimone.

Loan for high-speed Internet company denied in Jackson

Jackson County commissioners turned down a start-up Internet provider asking for a $1 million economic development loan to bring high-speed internet to rural areas.

Speak up if you want high-speed internet in Jackson

Jackson County wants to bring high-speed Internet service to a greater number of residents, but doing so means convincing an Internet service provider there’s enough potential customers to make it worth their while.

Still can’t hear you … No easy fix for connectivity in Nantahala Gorge

Organizers of the World Freestyle Kayaking Championship in 2013 have a short-term fix for getting telecommunication capabilities into the Nantahala Gorge, but have yet to find a long-term solution for business owners and residents there.

BalsamWest FiberNet, a company jointly owned by Macon County businessman Phil Drake and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, has already dug in fiber along the railroad tracks traversing the steep-walled gorge. It is part of the 225 miles of fiber built and owned by BalasmWest in this section of Western North Carolina. BalsamWest currently provides the Nantahala Outdoor Center, located along the railroad tracks, with high-speed connectivity to the outside world. The service isn’t inexpensive and other businesses in that remote area west of Bryson City haven’t been as lucky.

BalsamWest CEO Cecil Groves said that the fiber company could, however, provide 21st-century internet for everyone’s use during the games. This service will be available only on a temporary basis, he said last week.

“We can’t do it permanently, but we can for that short amount of time,” Groves said. “Once this is over, there’s not enough demand for us, or probably another carrier, to bring (the technology) fulltime. But for the event, we can help.”

BalsamWest’s willingness to hookup the Gorge might literally be saving the event for organizers of the kayaking freestyle world championship.

Ten thousand visitors a day are predicted to descend into the gorge Sept. 2-8, 2013, including reporters from around the world, to see the ICF Freestyle World Championships. And before that, the kayaking Junior World Cup will take place in September 2012  — with 5,000 to 6,000 people a day expected.

Without broadband, reporters will be unable to cover the competition, which has a major following in Europe.

During the search for serial bomber Eric Robert Rudolph, when dozens of news organizations from across the nation and beyond swooped into the region to cover the manhunt, only one news organization had the technology to communicate from the Gorge area. There was suspicion then that Rudolph, who was later captured in Murphy while pilfering a grocery store Dumpster for leftovers, was holed up in one of the caves dotting the landscape of the Gorge.

CNN reporters had a van equipped with a satellite phone, allowing them to keep viewers somewhat abreast of events that didn’t develop as the manhunt dragged on (for a long five years or so during the late 1990s). They’d occasionally loan the phone out to desperate colleagues affiliated with other news organizations, who needed to alert their editors of Rudolph’s non-capture, too.

The situation hasn’t advanced much in the intervening decade for business owners and members of the Nantahala community such as Juliet Kastorff, owner of Endless Rivers Adventures, a whitewater rafting company. Kastorff is helping to organize the world championship. She said that one of the commitments made by the organizing committee was to develop a long-term economic incentive for helping to host the championships — broadband capability was chosen.

“It is disappointing,” Kastorff said. “When the event is over, there will still be nothing there for the community — we are the last mile, literally and figuratively, for North Carolina.”

There’s not likely to be an easy answer anytime soon for the seven or so miles of dead zone. Enter the Nantahala Gorge, and cell phones and internet connections stop, the result of the steep, rocky walled gorge-area blocking modern communication abilities.

Can you hear me now? Broadband “critical” for Nantahala Gorge before kayaking championships

Organizers said this week that getting the Nantahala Gorge into this century when it comes to telecommunication capabilities is absolutely critical to successfully hosting the kayaking world championship in 2013.

The problem? There’s seems no easy answer to what’s for computer users a Bermuda Triangle of silence: seven or so miles of no broadband capability. Cell phones are equally useless in the steep-walled gorge where reception is unavailable.

Ten thousand visitors a day are predicted to descend into the gorge from Sept. 2-8, 2013, including reporters from around the world, to see the ICF Freestyle World Championships. And before that, the kayaking Junior World Cup will take place in September 2012  — with 5,000 to 6,000 people a day expected. Without broadband, reporters will be unable to cover the competition, which has a major following in Europe.

“We’re waiting on a miracle,” said Juliet Kastorff, owner of Endless Rivers Adventures, a whitewater rafting company in the Nantahala Gorge, of the possibilities of broadband capabilities throughout the area.

Short of that miracle, there also have been discussions with U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, to see if he can help apply, well, pressure on the powers-that-be to bring in broadband.

“Getting broadband access throughout the gorge is a huge priority,” said Sutton Bacon president and CEO of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, the region’s largest whitewater and outdoor outfitter.

Another priority is work on a water feature in the Nantahala. These championships are freestyle, which Bacon explained is similar to kayakers doing tricks and stunts akin to a snowboarders’ showoff on a halfpipe. There is a play feature currently on the Nantahala River, “The Wave,” that is situated near NOC. That has been simply the work of river guides and others hand-stacking rocks, which tend to be washed out in storms, Bacon said.

Firms have been hired to stabilize “The Wave” and “make it a world-championship feature,” he said, adding that the new trick area would not look much different from what’s available now, and would continue to be at the level of “Nantahala-style paddlers.”

McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group of Denver, with the help of local company Heron Associates, will develop the river feature. McLaughlin re-engineered the Ocoee River for the 1996 Olympics, and has extensive experience working with the U.S. Forest Service, Bacon said.

The committee overseeing the world championships has submitted a $200,000 request to Golden Leaf Foundation for money; Nantahala Outdoor Center has contributed $100,000; the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad has chipped in $25,000; the Swain County Tourism Development Authority $70,000; and Duke Energy, $5,000. Smoky Mountain Host will contribute cash, plus in-kind work, according to organizers.

Business, tourism and economic development leaders hoping to capitalize on these events met Thursday (March 24) in Stecoah to continue planning for them and to discuss marketing plans.

High-speed broadband continues march across the mountains

Work to bring broadband to all of North Carolina — including adding missing sections of fiber in the mountains — is well under way, leaders with a state nonprofit group said.

Construction on an important link from Enka to Sylva that will run through Haywood County is targeted for completion by early May, Tommy Jacobson, vice president of MCMN’s network infrastructure initiatives, told about 50 regional business and political leaders during a conference held at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.  

North Carolina has received $255 million in federal recovery grants to extend broadband in the state, via MCMN (Making Connections in North Carolina).

The new fiber will help groups such as BalsamWest FiberNET in Sylva and other telecoms by providing them with additional capacity and making them more efficient. BalsamWest is a private entity that is jointly owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Macon County-based Drake Enterprises. It worked independently to build a broadband infrastructure to serve Western North Carolina, putting in 300 miles of fiberoptic cable.

“Bandwidth demand will never go down,” Phil Drake of Drake Enterprises said of BalsamWest’s ability to use extra broadband capacity.

The missing piece now being laid in Haywood County has been described as critical to that county’s economic wellbeing by elected and business leaders: MedWest, a collective of hospitals in Haywood, Jackson and Swain counties, has estimated such a connection would save MedWest alone at least half a million dollars.

Additionally, construction on an 18-mile stretch of fiber cable in Graham County, which will tie back into BalsamWest, is slated to start this summer. Jacobson said his group is working to get clearance to build through the Nantahala National Forest.

He dubbed the process “challenging,” dryly describing the U.S. Forest Service “as an interesting agency to work with.”

“Little can be done out here without public-private partnerships,” said Cecil Groves, CEO of BalsamWest and the former president of Southwestern Community College.

Joe Freddoso, president and CEO of MCMN, agreed. He said the group used BalsamWest and Blue Ridge EMC (serving the state’s westernmost counties and north Georgia) as a model for expanding service to rural areas across North Carolina.

“That model was crafted here,” Freddoso said, “by a region that met its own need.

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