Highlands, North Carolina, Issues RFP for Community Network Administrator

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!)

Altitude logo

Altitude Community Broadband currently offers fixed wireless connections as well as fiber in downtown Highlands to 340 subscribers. According to the RFP [doc], the Altitude fiber network is 75% finished and will connect every business and home in the town with a dedicated fiber. Once completed, the fiber network will improve local broadband access as well as enable smart city applications, like enhanced utility systems monitoring.

Request for Proposals

In the RFP, Highlands explains that it is looking for a partner to take over operation of the Altitude network, provide broadband access to area residents, and lease dark fiber from the town.

Highlands issued a similar request for information back in 2017 and had been in talks with provider WideOpen Networks. But the town and its prospective partner were unable to reach an agreement, so Highlands released a new RFP.

“[I]t doesn’t appear that their terms are going to be acceptable,” said town commissioner Amy Patterson, the Highlander reports. “We have been contacted by two other companies who have shown interest in being our network administrator and we anticipate that both of those will submit proposals.”

The current RFP offers a lease term of 25 years and says the winning bidder should provide gigabit speeds to all Highlands homes and businesses along the fiber network, continue to serve existing subscribers, and employ Altitude’s current staff.

Highlands also wants the winning bidder to complete the remaining portion of the network, which already passes 87% of premises. These unfinished areas will require underground construction and the use of poles owned by a local co-op and an investor owned utility, as opposed to the completed sections where Highlands deployed aerial fiber using the town’s electric infrastructure. The RFP encourages further expansion beyond the town limits, but Highlands will not provide funding.

For submission instructions, evaluation criteria, and other information, download the RFP packet and related files on Highlands’ website.

Interested bidders should submit proposals before 3 p.m. eastern on Friday, September 4.