As Baldwin County continues to grow, so does the infrastructure for providing fiber-optic cable capable of upgrading internet connections for the expanding population.
Several companies have the “backbone” in place, with lines already in the ground along major roadways in and in between many cities. The ongoing challenge is branching off of that backbone and into neighborhoods and homes.
“If you wanted to take on a project and it was a 200-home development in Orange Beach or Foley right along our fiber route, we could drop off the internet to you and you can distribute it,” Harbor Communications President Chuck Nylander said. “You have to divide it up so much it becomes very complex, and that’s why I question many people having the capability of doing that.”
But it is working in some Baldwin cities including Fairhope, where AT&T and Mediacom have submitted large-scale projects in the past two to three years to install fiber in numerous subdivisions, including Rock Creek, Quail Creek, Sedgefield, large portions of Thompson Hall Road and Windmill Road, Idlewild, Old Battles Place and several others, administrative assistant Jessica Walker said.
“As a city, we want to support the needs of our residents and businesses,” Walker said. “As fiber becomes more and more vital to everyday life, our desire to run fiber throughout neighborhoods continues to grow.”
Uniti and Centurylink, along with Harbor Communications, are also major players in the fiber infrastructure in Baldwin County and some homes in Robertsdale are also already getting fiber service, City Engineer Greg Smith said.
Gulf Shores recently granted a franchise to Point Broadband to build out fiber networks into neighborhoods. Orange Beach recently granted franchises to local company Island Fiber and to Whitesky of Tuscaloosa. In those resort towns, Nylander said, it’s easy to get service into the huge condo complexes, but the neighborhoods are a bit trickier.
“Our business model has always been business-to-business and the condominiums,” Nylander said. “And there’s density in the condominiums. You go in once and you’re hitting 100 or 200 units.”
Gulf Shores Economic Development Coordinator Blake Phelps said one reason city officials there are excited about Point Broadband coming to town is the company’s desire to focus first on neighborhoods.
“Condos or the beach has not come up at all in any of our conversations over the last eight to 12 months,” Phelps said. “They have been solely focused on residential. They see a niche, they see an opportunity and, quite frankly, a little bit of a void in the market.”
In Orange Beach, Councilman Jerry Johnson and the city’s Telecommunications Committee have been working with several providers, hoping one will take the plunge and bring fiber to homes and neighborhoods.
“Right now, Orange Beach has five companies interested in putting fiber in the ground,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it will be one company, but I think it will be two or three that will end up doing it.”
Foley Administrator Mike Thompson said there are several providers in his city as well, but none has yet to provide fiber service to homes.
“Foley does have some fiber in the ground which allows us to monitor some of our properties such as parks/recreation sites, and to provide Wi-Fi hotspots such as at our library,” he said.
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