OpenBand cases can be appealed before same panel

September 3, 2012

Two Ashburn homeowners associations will have a chance to present their cases against telecommunications provider OpenBand at the same time in appellate court, after an Aug. 17 ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

The ruling means the multifaceted drama involving the broadband cable company and the Loudoun County communities it serves could potentially come to a long-awaited conclusion by year’s end: The oral arguments for the two cases have been tentatively scheduled for Dec. 4 through 7, according to court documents.

The ruling also means that, despite the hopes of county supervisors, the ongoing legal battle will not be resolved before the supervisors make a final decision on whether to renew OpenBand’s controversial franchise agreement with the county.

The board is expected to decide this month whether to approve the proposed agreement, which was rejected by the previous county Board of Supervisors in November before being resubmitted to the newly elected board this year.

The board voted in June to extend the transition period defined by the previous franchise agreement, to allow OpenBand to continue to provide cable television, telephone and Internet services to the Southern Walk, Lansdowne and Lansdowne Village Green communities, as well as parts of Leisure World.

Board members said they hoped that the additional time would allow the homeowners associations and OpenBand to resolve their dispute out of court, but it now appears that the supervisors will need to make a decision before the ongoing litigation is resolved.

The Southern Walk and Lansdowne on the Potomac HOAs have nearly identical lawsuits against OpenBand, focusing on the exclusive nature of OpenBand’s contract to provide cable television services to the communities. The homeowners claim that property easements established in OpenBand’s contract with the communities’ developers effectively resulted in a monopoly.

But the two complaints received opposite rulings in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria: The Southern Walk at Broadlands HOA’s claim was dismissed with prejudice in February, but the Lansdowne HOA won its case in the same court in July.

In the Lansdowne case, U.S. District Court Judge Anthony J. Trenga ruled that the terms of OpenBand’s agreement, which result in the inability of competing cable companies such as Comcast or Verizon to establish the wire infrastructures needed to provide services to Lansdowne residents, violate the Federal Communication Commission’s exclusivity order.

Both cases were appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

Last month, OpenBand opposed the homeowners associations’ motion to present their cases before the same panel, saying that the two complaints involve distinct issues and are in different states of litigation.

But the appellate court disagreed. With the oral arguments set for early December, any request to delay or contest the proceeding must be filed by Tuesday, according to court documents.

OpenBand also suffered another legal setback Aug. 17, when, in a separate ruling in U.S. District Court, Judge Gerald Bruce Lee denied a motion by OpenBand requesting that the Southern Walk HOA pay for OpenBand’s attorney’s fees and expenses in that case, which the HOA lost.

Through its spokesman, OpenBand declined to comment on the pending cases.

Caitlin Gibson covers Loudoun County for The Washington Post.
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