In the wake of controversy surrounding Loudoun’s cable franchise agreement with telecommunications company OpenBand, the county Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to propose two amendments to the draft — shortening the term to two years and adding a termination clause to the agreement.
An OpenBand official expressed frustration with the board’s proposal.
“We’ve been negotiating in good faith with the county for many, many months,” Ben Young, director of government affairs for M.C. Dean, OpenBand’s parent company, said in an interview Friday. Young said OpenBand had made “dramatic concessions” in the terms of the agreement.
Homeowners in several eastern Loudoun County communities served by OpenBand — including Southern Walk at Broadlands, Lansdowne on the Potomac and Lansdowne Village Green — have complained about the company’s service for years. The complaints have escalated in recent months, as the county works on a franchise agreement with the Dulles-based company.
The debate has focused on the legality of contracts created a decade ago between OpenBand and the communities’ developers. In exchange for OpenBand’s investment in the development of a fiber-optic cable infrastructure in the subdivisions, OpenBand was given sole cable access to the properties. Homeowners associations have complained that the exclusive property easements in those agreements have made it impossible for competing cable companies to provide service in their neighborhoods.
The Southern Walk and Lans-downe on the Potomac homeowners associations filed separate lawsuits in U.S. District Court last month, with both complaints claiming that the contracts are in violation of federal antitrust law. The Board of Supervisors also sent a request to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) in June, asking him to conduct an antitrust investigation into OpenBand’s business practices. At Wednesday’s meeting, county staff members said that Cuccinelli’s office does not expect to have a preliminary response to the request before the end of this month.
Supervisor Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run), a resident of Lans-downe on the Potomac, moved that the board amend the term of the franchise agreement from 12 years to two years.
“I cannot support a 12-year term. I think that is way too long,” Waters said. “Over the next two years, we can get some resolution on both litigation issues, as well as have OpenBand prove that they are capable of running an effective, customer-service-friendly cable company.”
The board also voted to add a termination clause to the agreement, giving the county the right to end the franchise with 15 days’ notice if Cuccinelli decides to take action against the company or if it is determined by Cuccinelli or a court ruling that any aspect of the agreements with OpenBand violated state or federal laws.
Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling) cast the lone opposing vote to Waters’s motion and the addition of a termination clause, saying that the board should focus on negotiating with OpenBand rather than “this business of dictating and suing and implying criminal intent on the part of an established company.”
Several supervisors acknowledged that the amendments proposed at Wednesday’s meeting were probably only the start of negotiations with OpenBand.
“I don’t know where these negotiations are going,” said Supervisor James Burton (I-Blue Ridge.) “I don’t see an end to it for quite some time.”
Burton said that he would support the amendments but that he was “not very optimistic that OpenBand will accept.”
The company confirmed Burton’s prediction: “We are not inclined to enter into any agreement which would give the county the right to revoke our franchise agreement with two weeks’ notice, whether there’s any substance to a claim or not,” Young said. “It’s also unclear to us why they are treating a Loudoun County business, who employs people here, who pays taxes here, more harshly than they treat businesses from Philadelphia and New York.”
The board scheduled a second public hearing on the matter Oct. 11.