Jerry Johnson, Orange Beach, Alabama, councilmanBy John Mullen

February 11, 2019 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA®) – Orange Beach continues to look for options to bring fiber internet cable into its neighborhoods and is working with several companies to make that happen.

The latest entry in the fiber sweepstakes is one called WhiteSky out of Tuscaloosa which is planning to start asking residents of specific neighborhoods if they are interested in having fiber in their homes. If enough agree to sign up then efforts can begin in earnest.

“Once we get the marketing materials together and get the name out there in the area we are going to start marketing ourselves as a fiber to the home provider,” WhiteSky’s Matt Amick said. “Within the next month or two we’re really going to start working on it.”

 

According to Councilman Jerry Johnson the city is in talks with at least four companies about the possibility of bringing fiber to Orange Beach homes. An effort last year through CenturyLink fell through mainly because of a lack of consumer confidence and experience with the company that is a current supplier of internet and phone service on the island. Johnson is the chairman of the city’s Telecommunications Committee.

“Right now, I’ve got four companies interested in putting fiber in the home but they’ve all got to see if it’s going to work financially for them,” Johnson said. “The one that can get in first and get maybe 35 to 40 percent penetration then they’ll stand a good chance at surviving. You’re making enough to make it happen. But if you come in and only get two out of 10 some of them are going to fall off the table.”

The most likely scenario, Johnson says, is for the companies to lease fiber networks already in the ground from Uniti, a communications infrastructure company that has fiber networks all over the country. According to the Uniti.com website fiber cable is in the ground along the major roads in Orange Beach including Perdido Beach Boulevard, Canal Road, Orange Beach Boulevard and Marina Road. The beach road fiber extends all the way through Gulf Shores to just past Little Lagoon Pass. Alabama 59 has Uniti fiber from the beach to Foley and points beyond and all the way down Fort Morgan Road to just short of the fort.

WhiteSky logoThe challenge, Johnson says, is cost associated with building into neighborhoods off of these Uniti lines.

“If they don’t have to put or fiber cable in the ground and use fiber that’s in the ground – I think they use Uniti as far as their supplier of fiber – then they can become a revenue machine because they don’t have a lot of overhead,” Johnson said. “They’re leasing it from Uniti. They can stand up their model and if they’ve got the wherewithal to install it and then maintain it and bill then they could go to a Captain’s Cove or any of these neighborhoods and survey the customers and say will you sign up with us. Once they get whatever percentage of what they need to make some money then they could go and do that.”

Amick said he’s not sure exactly what those numbers are but his company is ready to begin studying the effort.

“Basically, if enough neighbors in a neighborhood want to get services we will build into that neighborhood and we will build out to each of the homes,” Amick said. “It has to be a justifiable cost because putting fiber in the ground is a bit expensive. The more customers that we can get on board to utilize that fiber, the cheaper we are able to offer our services. It is very much an economies of scale scenario.”

Johnson said any provider coming to town will likely have to use Uniti lines except for Orange Beach-based Harbor Communications which has its own lines in the ground already.

“It is a complicated road to go down and I’m still pursuing it,” Johnson said. “If we can get fiber to the homes, I don’t think it’s going to be one provider. I think it will end up probably being a couple of providers. We’re all just suffering under Mediacom and CenturyLink. I’m hoping we can see something going on sometime in 2019.”