A federal judge has ruled in favor of a Lansdowne homeowners association that filed a lawsuit against telecommunications provider OpenBand last year, contesting the exclusivity of the company’s contract to provide cable TV services to the community.
In a ruling issued late Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Anthony J. Trenga found that the inability of competing cable companies to provide services to the Lansdowne residents under the terms of OpenBand’s agreement was in violation of the Federal Communication Commission’s exclusivity order, which states that it is unfair for cable operators to “engage in unfair methods of competition.”
“The Court concludes as a matter of law based on undisputed facts that the contractual arrangement in place between Lansdowne HOA and OpenBand . . . contains contractual clauses that grant to OpenBand the exclusive right to provide wired video programming services to Lansdowne residents and that such clauses violate the Exclusivity Order,” the ruling said.
The Lansdowne HOA is one of two communities that filed federal lawsuits against OpenBand after years of complaints about the company’s service and exclusive property easements that prevented residents from seeking alternative cable service providers.
A complaint that the Southern Walk homeowners association filed against OpenBand was dismissed with prejudice in February, meaning that the association cannot file the lawsuit again. An appeal of that decision is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
In response to Trenga’s ruling, OpenBand spokesman Ben Young noted the dismissal of Southern Walk’s lawsuit.
“A few months ago, [U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee] ruled in OpenBand’s favor in an identical case,” Young said in a statement. “The court is now split, and the issue will be resolved by the 4th Circuit.”
Robin Crabtree, a director of the Lansdowne on the Potomac board of directors, said Lans-downe residents were pleased by the ruling, which would allow competing cable providers such as Verizon or Comcast to provide service in the community.
“OpenBand was claiming that they could be the exclusive wire line carrier . . . that’s been overruled,” Crabtree said. “Now we’re going to have choice.”
It remains unclear whether the ruling will affect the Loudoun County Board of Supervisor’s pending decision on whether to renew its franchise agreement with OpenBand.
The agreement, which was rejected in November by the previous Board of Supervisors, was re-submitted to the newly elected board this year.
OpenBand has continued to provide cable TV, phone and Internet service to several eastern Loudoun communities since its previous agreement expired in June 2009, but the transition period outlined in the contract was scheduled to end June 17.
The Board of Supervisors voted last month to extend the period by 90 days, with the hope that the additional time might allow the homeowners associations and OpenBand to negotiate a resolution.
The board is expected to vote on the issue in September.
Crabtree said she hoped the ruling would encourage county leaders to deny the franchise agreement once again.
“We would like for [the supervisors] to see that OpenBand has been operating outside federal law this whole time,” she said. “We feel that they don’t meet the qualifications to hold a franchise in Loudoun County.”
Young said that Loudoun County officials and attorneys have repeatedly backed the legitimacy of OpenBand's proposed agreement.
“They’ve said time and time again now that we do meet the requirements for a franchise agreement,” Young said. “In fact, the proposed franchise agreement is far more advantageous to the county than any other franchise agreement that currently exists” in Loudoun.