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.
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.”
Less than a month after the initial announcement of bidding for a new municipal fiber network, the city is saying people may have let their expectations run a little too rampant.
The city is hoping to build a broadband network for its facilities, but Craig Fifer, a spokesman for the City of Alexandria, clarified that the side benefit of increased consumer choice in cable, voice and broadband services is still conditional.
“This is an intended benefit, but only if private providers choose to avail themselves of the opportunity,” Fifer said.
Getting the public on board isn’t always a sure bet. In neighboring Arlington, the county government spent $4.1 million to build a network that went completely unused by private entities.
Fifer also noted that the city’s plans wouldn’t involve leasing fiber capacity, but excess conduit space — meaning private providers would still have to run their own fiber cables but could do so through city-built conduits.
“It’s important to clarify that the plan is to lease excess conduit capacity, not excess fiber capacity,” Fifer said. “Private providers would be able to run their own fiber without having to dig. This is an important distinction for legal reasons.”
Hopes were previously high in 2010 when the city applied to the Google Fiber network and Verizon FiOS, but city officials say those plans have all fallen through.
“With new Verizon FiOS deployment plans shelved around the country and Google Fiber largely dead, the investment in broadband infrastructure must fall to local governments,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in a newsletter.
Still, despite the modulation of expectations, Wilson said in the newsletter that he was hopeful.
“This is an issue that impacts not only residents but also our businesses and the ability of our community to attract new investment,” Wilson said. “Over 6 years ago, I proposed that the City develop a broadband plan to bring true competition to Alexandria’s broadband market. It has taken far too long, but the City is finally moving ahead on an effort to bring new broadband capacity to our community.”
Photo via J.C. Burns/Flickr
The City of Alexandria is inviting companies to bid for the construction of a municipal fiber network, putting the city one step closer to breaking the current monopolies on television and telephone services in Alexandria.
The city is hoping to build a broadband network that can support voice, video and data transportation at public facilities. A side benefit of this plan is an increase in consumer choice in cable, voice and broadband services at a variety of costs and available speeds.
According to the city website:
The city has received consistent feedback from residential and business consumers regarding the lack of local competition in cable television and broadband Internet services. Although no provider has an exclusive franchise with the city, there is only one cable television franchisee (Comcast) and one landline telephone franchisee (Verizon) in Alexandria, and there are no broadband Internet franchisees.
The system design was completed in August. The design focused on addressing connectivity for city buildings, public schools, library and public safety communication needs, according to the city website.
Yesterday the City issued the Invitation to Bid for the construction of our Municipal Fiber Network.
This is an important step in our process of expanding the broadband infrastructure for municipal and eventually private use in our community. pic.twitter.com/X3bxvJs4eT
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) November 9, 2019
For years, the city has sought out other potential providers, but the website notes that “companies are typically reluctant to make multimillion-dollar capital investments in new fiber networks.” Thus, the city is attempting to include the addition of fiber infrastructure wherever digging projects and utility work are already underway. Once the fiber network is built, the city would lease excess capacity.
“The city is planning to seek new franchisees who could lease excess capacity on the city’s new fiber-optic network and provide service to residents and businesses,” according to the city website. “This would allow all providers to compete fairly, and would incentivize providers to offer consumer services.”
Nearby Arlington County also built its own “dark fiber” network, at the cost of millions of dollars. But a plan to have businesses use the network, and thus provide an economic development boost to the county, have not panned out — as of earlier this year the network was almost totally unused.
A pre-bid conference for the Alexandria fiber project is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 19, in the purchasing conference room at 100 N. Pitt Street.
Photo via J.C. Burns/Flickr