New lawsuit filed against OpenBand; Lansdowne residents to file separate complaint

August 15, 2011

An Ashburn homeowners association has filed an amended lawsuit against OpenBand, a broadband telecommunications provider that serves several communities in eastern Loudoun County, less than two weeks after the association’s first suit was dismissed in federal court.

The Southern Walk at Broadlands homeowners association filed the amended complaint in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on Tuesday, days after the board of directors of another homeowners association — representing the Lansdowne on the Potomac community — voted unanimously to file a separate lawsuit against OpenBand.

After years of complaints from frustrated residents, the Southern Walk homeowners association filed its first lawsuit in federal court in May, alleging that the exclusive property easements established by OpenBand’s contract with developer Van Metre Cos. — easements that residents say make it impossible for competing cable providers to access the community — are in violation of federal communications law. That lawsuit was dismissed at a court hearing July 29.

The amended lawsuit filed last week delves into the complex background of how the easements came to be, noting that OpenBand was given exclusive cable access to the property in 2001, when the community’s homeowners association was still controlled by Van Metre. In return for OpenBand’s investment of more than $20 million to develop a fiber-optic cable infrastructure, a decades-long contract term was established, granting OpenBand the authority to potentially renew the agreement for more than 60 years.

Citing the inability of competing cable telecommunications companies such as Verizon or Comcast to provide services to the community, the Southern Walk homeowners association claims that the contract established between Van Metre and OpenBand is in violation of the Federal Communications Commission’s Exclusive Access Ban.

Residents of several Ashburn and Lansdowne communities where OpenBand has long been the sole cable and Internet service provider have increasingly voiced their dissatisfaction in recent months, as the county Board of Supervisors considers whether to renew the controversial franchise agreement between the county and OpenBand. One homeowners association from the Leisure World community in Lansdowne has maintained support for OpenBand, but residents of nearby communities say they are often unable to use Internet or cable service without disruptions.

In response to the allegations, county leaders sent a request to Virginia State Attorney Ken Cuccinelli II (R) in June, asking that he conduct an antitrust investigation into OpenBand’s practices.

The Lansdowne on the Potomac homeowners group sent a letter to its residents Aug. 5, saying the association’s board of directors had unanimously voted to file a suit against OpenBand and noting that attempts to resolve the community’s complaints were not successful.

Hani Elnaggar, president of the Lansdowne on the Potomac board of directors, said the association would not comment further until the lawsuit has been filed.

OpenBand declined to comment on the amended lawsuit filed by the Southern Walk homeowners association or the impending lawsuit from the Lansdowne on the Potomac community.

Caitlin Gibson is a local news and features writer for The Washington Post.
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