OpenBand files suit against Loudoun County Board of Supervisors

December 14, 2011

In the latest development in the lengthy saga involving Loudoun County and OpenBand, the cable and broadband provider filed a complaint against the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 2 — a retort to the board’s Nov. 2 vote to deny the renewal of a franchise agreement with the Dulles-based firm.

The lawsuit, filed in Loudoun Circuit Court, appeals the board’s decision on the grounds that the denial was “indefensible” and illegal, and it cites OpenBand’s compliance with the existing agreement and industry standards, high approval ratings, a successful audit via an independent consultant and the company’s flexibility during the contract negotiation process.

“The Board’s decision to deny OBM’s franchise application is not reasonable . . . and thus is violative of the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” the complaint states.

The board’s long-anticipated vote followed years of complaints about the company’s service from residents of several Ashburn and Lansdowne communities served by OpenBand. The complaints were amplified this year, as county leaders considered renewal of OpenBand’s contract, a prospect that was met with tense negotiations, a barrage of negative testimony from OpenBand customers and two federal lawsuits filed against the company by homeowners associations in Ashburn.

Those lawsuits alleged that exclusive property easements established in contracts between OpenBand and the communities’ developers had resulted in a monopoly that effectively made it impossible for competing cable companies to provide service to the neighborhoods.

Ben Young, spokesman for OpenBand, said the company is not seeking material damages and filed the complaint to avoid forfeiting its right to appeal the board’s decision.

“It was something we did reluctantly,” Young said. “We still hope that we can reach a reasonable agreement with the county. Our hope is that the lawsuit never has to come to fruition.”

OpenBand plans to re-submit its renewal application to the county, Young said. He declined to say how soon that might happen.

Residents of communities served by OpenBand expressed concern about the possibility of a new application coming before the new Board of Supervisors for approval, noting that several newly elected supervisors accepted sizable campaign donations from OpenBand’s parent company, M.C. Dean.

Returning Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling), who alone opposed the denial of OpenBand’s franchise renewal, has maintained that donations he received from M.C. Dean, which totaled more than $7,000, within days of the Nov. 2 board meeting had no impact on his vote.

Before the election, Young said that donations from M.C. Dean were used by critics as “political fodder” but that the contributions made up only about 3 percent of the total donations in the Loudoun races.

Erika Hodell-Cotti, president of the Southern Walk Homeowners Association, which filed one of the two federal lawsuits against OpenBand in August, said OpenBand’s lawsuit against the board was a transparent attempt to “strong-arm the county” into reversing the denial. Given the amount of cash and in-kind donations given to five members of the incoming county board, “it does raise many questions,” she said.

“Unfortunately, OpenBand’s thuggish tactics continue to make an already volatile situation worse,” Hodell-Cotti said. “Our HOA has stated that our homeowners simply want reliable telecom services at a reasonable rate, something that OpenBand is incapable of providing.”

Loudoun officials said that the county does not comment on pending litigation.

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