The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to deny a controversial franchise agreement between the county and broadband telecommunications provider OpenBand – the latest development in a lengthy and litigious saga between the Dulles-based company, its eastern Loudoun customers and the county board.
The vote marked the second time that the franchise has been denied by county supervisors. The previous board rejected an earlier version of the proposed agreement in November; it was then resubmitted to the newly-elected board earlier this year.
Residents of eastern Loudoun communities served by OpenBand have complained for years about the company’s spotty service quality and poor customer relations. At the board meeting Tuesday, a majority of the supervisors said that they could not overlook those complaints – as well as ongoing litigation between OpenBand and its customers.
“One of the things that we as a board have to look at is, is it in the best interest of our citizens?” said Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), who made the motion to deny the agreement.
With the company facing lawsuits from two of its largest communities, he said, “I just can’t reconcile that being in the interest of our constituents.”
Two homeowners’ associations, Southern Walk at Broadlands and Lansdowne on the Potomac, filed federal complaints last year, alleging that exclusive property easements established in contracts between OpenBand and the communities’ developers had effectively resulted in a monopoly. Competing cable service providers such as Comcast and Verizon could not access the neighborhoods, a fact that the HOAs maintained was in violation of federal telecommunications law.
The two similar lawsuits received conflicting verdicts in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. The Southern Walk complaint was dismissed with prejudice in February, while the Lansdowne case received a ruling in July stating that the terms of OpenBand’s agreement were in violation of the Federal Communication Commission’s exclusivity order.
The two cases will be reviewed together in coming months at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
Despite the ongoing legal issues and concerns of OpenBand customers, not all members of the board felt that the franchise should be denied again. Supervisors Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) and Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) voted against the motion to reject the agreement. Vice Chairman Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge) abstained from the vote.
Letourneau, who predicted that a denial of the agreement would result in more costly litigation, said it wasn’t the board’s place to interfere with a dispute between two private entities at the expense of county taxpayers.
With the franchise rejected, it remains unclear whether OpenBand will continue to provide service to the affected communities. The company has provided cable TV, phone and Internet service under the terms of a transition period outlined in OpenBand’s prior franchise agreement, which expired in June 2009.
OpenBand could not be immediately reached for comment.