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City Council approves new broadband franchises but new uncertainties raised

At the cusp of what should have been a crowning moment for Alexandria’s City Council — the long-awaited approval of broadband franchises to compete with Comcast — the city and the chosen internet providers appear to be having some network connectivity issues.

Last month, two companies were chosen to provide internet service piggybacking off the city’s new municipal broadband network. At a City Council meeting on Saturday, companies Ting and Lumos Telephone were given right-of-way franchises; seemingly one of the last major legislative hurdles.

But while the two companies had appeared enthusiastic early in the process, at the City Council meeting representatives from both expressed new concerns about the viability of operating their franchises in Alexandria.

Mike Saperstein, head of government affairs and general counsel at Lumos, said there are regulations being imposed that make him uncertain about the future of the partnership.

“I must point out, however, while we understand the city’s goals with respect to creating competition, there is a fine line to continued business viability under this franchise, “Saperstein said. “[The agreements] contains provisions that are different from others we’ve seen and leaves us with important business considerations.”

Elliot Noss, CEO of Ting, said that he wants to work as a partner with the City Council but also expressed some reservations.

Deputy City Manager Laura Triggs said one of the main points of contention has been over microtrenching — the process of digging a narrow trench at the edge of the sidewalk or in the road that can house the fiber optic cabling.

“We had some attachments for construction and permitting,” Triggs said. “We are having those ongoing dialogues and, yes, we have asked them to do some pretty aggressive microtrenching and that is something that’s different. We’ll have to keep working with both teams to make sure we’re balancing the needs of the community with their need to be able to provide this access.”

Triggs said the next part of the broadband process will be permitting, which should get started over the next 30-60 days.

“While it’s not all that complicated, it’s not all that easy either,” Triggs said. “Over the next 30-60 days we will be working with them on how we get the permits in and what the construction standards look like and that’s literally where the rubber meets the road on this, but once they sign they can start submitting permits and signaling when they want to construct.”

Despite the concerns, City Council members expressed some enthusiasm for the future of broadband access in Alexandria.

“This is a huge step for our city and very exciting news that this is coming to pass,” said Vice Mayor Amy Jackson. “Congratulations on all the hard work and all the hard work in the future, especially in the next three to sixty days.”

“This is a long time coming,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “Had a lot of fits and bursts, starts and stops, and we’ve fallen on our face a couple times. [We’re] trying everything we possibly can to increase capacity capability and availability in our community. While this is not the end, we have a lot of work ahead, this is a big step.”

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