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The City of Alexandria may have landed on agreements with two internet service providers to run broadband networks and open up the competition with the current internet monopoly: Comcast.

In January, the city announced that four companies had been shortlisted to operate a broadband internet service on cables the city was laying down alongside the new municipal network. An update scheduled for the Tuesday, Feb. 22, will as the City Council to approve right-of-way franchises to Lumos Telephone, Inc. and Ting, Inc.

One of the earlier options, Shentel, said they were no longer pursuing the franchise and North American Tower Company was listed as no longer being considered for the franchise.

The right-of-way franchises will allow the service providers to use a fiber network being laid by the city with certain stipulations. Part of the agreement involves “equitable access” terms, including:

  •  Ensure the broadband network passes every dwelling and business in the rightof-way
  • Provide access and monthly service for affordable housing units
  • Provide service to new development affordable units
  • Provide service to community service partners who serve residents in most need of broadband service
  • Provide wireless access in selected City parks

The agreements come after a long series of false starts for the city on finding a competitor to Comcast, with plans for a fiber network going back at least a decade. The city finally broke ground on the project last August, with construction of the network expected to take around four years.

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Alexandria is moving forward with its long-awaited broadband network — and potentially breaking Comcast’s internet monopoly — with a shortlist of potential broadband internet providers.

At a City Council meeting on Tuesday, the City Council approve the receipt of four broadband franchise proposals.

The companies that put in bids for consideration are:

The four companies have submitted proposals to construct and maintain a broadband system in Alexandria and will move into review by city staff. Vanetta Pledger, Alexandria’s chief information officer and director of information technology services, said that city staff will complete a review of the proposals and send its findings back to the City Council.

As the city moves forward with the development of a broadband network, City Council member Alyia Gaskins reiterated that work needs to be done to ensure equitable access across the city.

“I was really excited to see the previous Council made it explicit our commitment to equity as part of our search,” Gaskins said. “We all know that equity only works when we’re all very clear about what our digital equity needs are and so making sure that we understand where are specific problems, where are the gaps, what experience did our small businesses or schools have during this pandemic. It would be my hope that the city manager and city attorney really have some clear guidelines about how we are looking at and measuring digital equity as part of our review process.”

Deputy City Manager Laura Triggs said equity will be one of the main topics under consideration as the city reviews the four proposals.

“The next steps for us are to review the proposals that we get and we will look to see what is fair and equitable to the city, what is responsive, and what’s the best for our citizens,” Triggs said. “We’re excited about this. We’re happy to see that we have a lot of proposals, but we also know that’s a lot of things for us to consider, but we look forward to the next steps.”

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It was election week in Alexandria, so congratulations and/or condolences.

Alexandria Democrats managed to hold onto all of the City Council seats. Mayor Justin Wilson won reelection and Elizabeth Bennett-Parker was elected to the 45th District House of Delegates seat. But any local Democrat euphoria was dampened by statewide losses that Wilson warned could reverse recent local wins on some issues.

Here were the most-read stories around ALXnow this week:

  1. Developer reopens abandoned Alexandria power plant for tours later this month
  2. Cut-through traffic protections along Duke Street could go into effect early next year
  3. Man arrested for DWI, smashing cars and leaving scene while parking in Old Town
  4. BREAKING: Alexandria School Board election results
  5. Georgetown tearoom relocating to Alexandria waterfront
  6. Retail, residential, and music venue could replace North Old Town office park
  7. City Council to step up fight against Comcast internet monopoly next week
  8. BREAKING: Bennett-Parker declares victory in 45th District seat in Virginia House of Delegates
  9. Alexandria man arrested for stealing packages outside homes in Old Town
  10. Silver Parrot Jewelry permanently closing at end of year in Old Town
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Alexandria’s City Council is scheduled to throw down the gauntlet on Comcast next week as the city works to break the company’s stranglehold on local internet access.

The city broke ground in August on a new municipal fiber-optic network that would boost internet speed at city facilities and public schools, but the part of bigger interest to the public was that a second underground system was being laid simultaneously to allow a private company to step in later and franchise it.

At a City Council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 9, the city is scheduled to vote on officially opening that franchise up for bids. The City Council will consider a new ordinance to “solicit and eventually grant a broadband network franchise(s) to some residents and businesses in Alexandria.”

The City Council has been pushing to open up the city’s internet options beyond the current Comcast monopoly since 2006, though there have been a few bumps in the road since then.

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Comcast sent shockwaves through localities in the northeast with plan to implement data caps, and Mayor Justin Wilson said this emphasizes more than ever the need to break the cable company’s monopoly on internet in Alexandria.

“It’s frustrating to see Comcast put new policy in place…basically data caps,” Wilson said. “They’ve said there’s a small number of customers who would be impacted by this, but in the end it’s not great timing.”

Comcast has put its plans on hold for the time being, but local residents chimed in at a virtual town hall last week to express their concern. Wilson agreed, and said it’s another point in favor of moving forward with municipal broadband.

The city has been working on building a broadband network for city-use that would have enough excess capacity to lease to private internet and cable providers. That plan has hit some stumbling blocks, but the city has recently restarted its search for a partnering company.

“The big picture answer is competition, we continue to work through our municipal broadband effort,” Wilson said. “We just went out to market and closed on bids — it’s first step towards bringing some competition to the city.”

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