Harbor Communications has cable in Mobile, Alabama, and Baldwin County.By John Mullen

March 25, 2019 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA®) – One of the solutions to getting fiber into residential neighborhoods in Orange Beach could come from a homegrown company, Harbor Communications. It’s one of several companies the city is talking with about expanding the speedy internet technology into homes.

“Right now, Orange Beach has five companies interested in putting fiber in the ground,” Councilman Jerry 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. And can you survive with that small of a penetration?”

Harbor Communications is hoping to eventually ease into getting fiber to homes in Orange Beach on an experimental basis.

Chuck Nylander, President and General Manager of Harbor Communications.“We’re actively looking at it and I think we’d be one of the best fits for them,” Harbor President and General Manager Chuck Nylander said. “We’re not done talking to them and our last conversation with Jerry (Johnson) was let us do some of our test neighborhoods, let us see what it feels like, what it costs and then we’ll come back.”

Nylander said his first test neighborhood will likely be Cypress Village just east of The Wharf.

“It’s already being engineered right now,” Nylander said. “We’re looking at the costs right now. I’d like to expedite that one in the next six months so that would be our best working model to see it, see what it costs, see what the timelines are.”

When development there slowed down a few years ago cable companies were reluctant to take a chance on wiring the new subdivision.

“I think it was a bankrupt neighborhood and Truland Homes took it over and they never really got infrastructure in there,” Nylander said. “I think everybody was a little shy to go in there because they didn’t know if it would ever get off the ground. I will say they’ve built a heck of a lot of homes in there all of a sudden. Hopefully, they’ll keep selling and that would most likely be one of the next properties where we’ll do fiber to the home.”

Harbor was asked to step in and now is making wireless internet available to owners there.

“We rolled into the back of the place and put a trailer in with sectors so to this day right now we do a little radio to radio on each of the houses there and we can still deliver pretty good bandwidth,” Nylander said. “Our deal was we were waiting to get a certain amount of people in there and that would be one of the neighborhoods we’d do fiber to the home because we’d have a captive audience.”

Not only are the costs a concern, Nylander says he’d be worried other competitors would then want to come into Cypress Village.

“There’s going to be about 170 homes and we’re nearing 50 percent penetration over there already which gives me the comfort level to do it,” Nylander said. “I don’t have to worry about somebody else coming in on top of me because there are no other facilities there. I’m probably going to be looking for exclusivity if I’m going to spend that kind of money to put it in there. It’s not cheap.”

Though Harbor is a smaller company compared to giants Uniti, Centurylink and Mediacom, it has still built an extensive fiber network covering Mobile and Baldwin counties.

“We probably have a couple hundred miles in fiber between Mobile downtown and then coming over to Baldwin County,” Nylander said. “We go from Bay Minette all the way to the beach and then from Florida all the way to Gulf Shores. So, we crisscross back and forth. We continually keep building additional paths to close redundancy. Every time you can kind of create a loop it gives you more redundancy.”

Harbor also goes all the way out Fort Morgan Road but the line to Orange Beach comes from Foley to the beach express and then into town via that route. Nylander says they are working on closing the gap between Foley and Gulf Shores.

“We have south Baldwin covered pretty well,” he said. “In Orange Beach, we’re pretty much on every major road other than getting into little neighborhoods. But on main thoroughfares, we’re pretty much everywhere down there.”

He believes fiber will eventually come to neighbors in Orange Beach and other areas in Baldwin County but it won’t likely be anytime soon.

“Let’s remember all of Baldwin County is underserved and there’s a lot of dense neighborhoods all over,” Nylander said. “A company like us would probably be more inclined to just pop around on different dense neighborhoods that are near my fiber network. But if there’s a city subsidy involved that makes it more attractive to stay here whoever is willing to help subsidize us with that. We’re working on it but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Once the backbone network is in – and Baldwin County has a good network already in the ground – it is an expensive proposition tying on to it and putting the technology in place to service an entire neighborhood.

“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,” 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.”