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.”
Alexandria Realtor Branden Beasley has such a knack for asking tough and engaging questions that he decided to start a new podcast.
Beasley’s why ALEXANDRIA podcast premiered earlier this month in Del Ray, and he and his small production crew are currently taping more interviews.
“I just enjoy talking to people,” Beasley told ALXnow. “The podcast is nice, because I don’t feel like I’m reporting. I don’t feel like I’m covering current events. It’s more just like having really good positive conversations.”
The first show was taped on September 5 at Pat Miller Square in Del Ray. Guests included Miller, Pork Barrel BBQ owner Bill Blackburn, and DC Wheels founder Jimmy Pelletier for a skateboarding event to support the Lupus Foundation of America.
“Branden is such a neat guy,” Miller said. “He’s very smart and has a lot of energy.”
The 35-year-old Beasley is married with two kids and has lived in Del Ray most of his life.
“I know all the mayors and the business owners and athletes and the coaches and the community leaders,” Beasley said. “I’m fearless. I’m not shocked by anything, so I think people feel they can open up to me, which I think will help a lot in the podcast.”
Beasley said that he wants to eventually produce three shows a month.
“I want to keep the podcast as a nonprofit,” he said. “I want to basically raise money and use all the proceeds of support ACT for Alexandria and other Alexandria charities and nonprofits.”
After Flooding, Councilman Says City Stormwater Management Needs Work — “Councilmember Chapman tells 7 On Your Side Thursday’s flooding means city leaders need to quickly consider wholesale changes in terms of storm management.” [WJLA]
City Extends Deadline on Personal Property Tax Payments — “To provide relief for our residents and businesses during the ongoing pandemic, the City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday evening to extend the deadline for payment of the Personal Property Tax (Car Tax and Business). Payments are now due on December 15th.” [Twitter]
Casa Chirilagua Gets Grant to Develop Wifi-Friendly Outdoor Space — “AlexandriaVA.gov and Casa Chirilagua are working together to bridge the digital divide by building a safe and comfortable outdoor space with Wi-Fi for local students.” [Facebook]
Beyer Says Trump Watches Too Much TV — “The President says he is watching many hours of television a day as the country continues to reel amid its worst and deadliest crisis in most Americans’ lifetimes.” [Twitter]
City Wins National Technology Award for Remote 911 Call-Taking — “The annual PTI Solutions Awards recognize PTI member cities and counties that have implemented or updated innovative technology solutions within the past 15 months that positively affected local government performance and service to the public.” [CompTIA]
ALIVE! Free Food Distribution on Saturday — “ALIVE! Truck-to-Trunk will distribute food at two drive-through sites on Saturday, September 12 from 8:30 am – 10:30 am at the parking lots of Cora Kelly (3600 Commonwealth Ave) and John Adams (5651 Rayburn Ave) Elementary Schools. This distribution includes bags of shelf stable groceries, fresh produce, and eggs, while supplies last. People are encouraged to drive through. Walks-ups should maintain 6 feet social distance, wear a face mask, and bring carts or reusable bags to carry food home. “[Facebook]
Today’s Weather — “Sunshine and clouds mixed during the day. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 82F. Winds NNE at 5 to 10 mph. At night, partly cloudy. Low near 65F. Winds ENE at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]
New Job: Spa Coordinator — “This experience includes answering phones, scheduling spa services, greeting all customers, assisting with inquiries, and processing point of sale transactions for all products, always exceeding expectations.” [Indeed]
A local church is offering the ultimate tech support: a divine blessing for local students’ laptops.
This Sunday, Sept. 6, at 5:30 p.m.,Trinity United Methodist Church (2911 Cameron Mills Road) is planning to host an Outdoor Blessing of the Chromebooks & Ice Cream Social (Social Distanced Edition).
“We invite you to join Pastor Grace and Hannah Day Donoghue for an end of the summer celebration,” the church said. “Anyone starting any kind of school is welcome to bring their Chromebook, or an item from their desk/school working space to be blessed for the new school year. We will pair this with individually wrapped ice cream, to take home with you!”
ACPS has distributed thousands of Chromebooks to students to prepare for the online-only start of the school year. Ecclesiastical accessories were not included distribution, but those hoping for some additional theology in their tech can sign up for the program online or contact Program Director Hannah Day Donoghue at [email protected]
Karim Hussen’s business is spiking. With more customers working from home on personal laptops, the owner and staff of LapFix (4613 Duke Street) have their hands full recovering data and fixing personal computers and phones.
“We are busier now than ever, because everyone needs cameras for their computers and webcams for Zoom chats,” Hussen recently told ALXnow. “Of all things it’s webcams. Thankfully we are an essential business, according to the Commonwealth of Virginia, so I’m thankful that we never closed.”
Hussen started the business 15 years ago and opened at the Shoppes at Fox Chase about six years ago. The shop prides itself on fixing liquid spills cheaply and has drop-off locations around the region for customers to leave their equipment to be picked up.
“A majority of the work we do is on right now on high-level motherboard repair for liquid spills,” Hussen said. “A motherboard might cost $500, and plus $200 labor you’re looking at up to $700 for repairs. What we do here is fix it for you for a fraction of that price, because it’s basically our specialty.”
Business might be good for the time being, and Hussen hopes to have small physical locations throughout the region in the future. Still, problems lie ahead with computer companies like Apple increasingly making it more difficult for companies like his to fix their equipment.
“This laptop is from 2015, but I can’t find the chip for the 2018 model,” Hussen said. “Newer models, especially Apple become harder to fix for computer shops like us, due to the lack of availability of newer parts. It’s well known in the industry that this is happening, because Apple wants you to buy another $2,000 laptop. That’s the reality, that many of the these companies only internalize their repairs, which makes it difficult for shops like us.”
Hussen, a native of Eritrea, moved to the area in 1999 and got his degree in computer science from George Mason University. It was at GMU, in fact, that a classmate asked Hussen if he could take a look at his broken laptop. After fixing the problem, Hussen realized there was a market for electronics repair in the area.
One major source of business has been his Youtube channel.
“We are one of the top channels for motherboard repair in the country,” Hussen said. “We go out of our way to make things easier for you.”
Alexandria Tech Firm Raises $1.1 Million in Seed Funding — “Clowder has quickly become the leader in modern member communication. Our apps are able to take organizations who’ve long relied on web and email-based engagement strategies and place them in the 21st century with an on-hand tool that provides instant access.”[Clowder.com]
Metro Expands Train Service Hours — “The pandemic has posed challenges never before faced by Metro, and I want to extend my thanks to our customers – especially essential workers – for their understanding as we took unprecedented action to protect our essential frontline workforce and the public health.” [Zebra]
What Will Happen to Halloween in Alexandria This Year? — “In a ‘normal’ year, local children would start running from house to house by 5 p.m. collecting as much candy as possible, but it’s not certain that most homes will be welcoming strangers to their doorsteps, no matter what type of mask the little goblins (and their parents) are wearing.” [Alexandria Living]
Beyer Refutes Trump Tweet to ‘SAVE THE POST OFFICE!’ — “Trump blocked financial support for the US Postal Service all year and last week admitted he was sabotaging USPS to prevent people from voting.” [Twitter]
Police Remember First Alexandria Officer Who Died in Line of Duty — “We remember Constable Elijah Chenault killed in the line-of-duty on August 4, 1823, 197 YEARS ago. Constable Cheault was the earliest known line of duty death in Alexandria. His death was 47 years before the City of Alexandria Police Department was founded. We will never forget.” [Facebook]
Fire Department Rescues Stuck Canine — “This past weekend, E207C responded to a residence to help save a family’s pup. The crew helped free the dog from being stuck between a piece of plywood and a water heater behind the washer and dryer. Glad the pup was OK!” [Twitter]
Today’s Weather — Mostly sunny skies during the day with a high temperature of 86. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph. There is a 40% chance of partly cloudy skies in the early evening followed by increasing clouds with showers developing later at night. Low 68F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 40%.” [Weather.com]
New Job: Food Community Coordinator — “ALIVE! Job Opportunity for a Food Community Coordinator. This is a full-time temporary position.” [Facebook]
As of Monday, Alexandria City Public Schools will have issued more than 1,200 mobile hotspots to families without internet access and more than 12,000 Chromebook laptop computers to students to keep them learning throughout the COVID-19 shut down until the end of the year.
Making sure that students have access to their teachers and modified curriculums has been an unprecedented logistical puzzle that took a lot of work for ACPS Chief Technology Officer Elizabeth Hoover and her team to accomplish.
“It’s not just giving someone the internet,” Hoover said. “They’re going through our filter, and we manage the hours and we can manage the data so there’s a shared data pool. And some of our households have six kids, and they need more data. This way we can allocate data by the need and by the size of the household.”
ACPS students have had laptops since 2004, and the school system estimates there are about 600 households with more than 1,200 students who need help with internet access. The school system ended up buying an additional 700 Kajeets mobile hotspot devices (on top of the 500 that were previously distributed earlier in the year), and started mailing them with letters in multiple languages to families today. The hotspots are expected to be delivered Monday.
There are more than 15,700 students in the school system, and the additional equipment and data plans reportedly cost ACPS $150,000, of which $16,000 was raised by parent teacher associations, according to an ACPS spokesperson.
“What kept me up at night for the last month is figuring out how do we… make sure that our kids are engaged with their teachers?” Hoover said. “And it’s not just an instruction it’s also social, emotional, having that that support of their being able to see their through their friends and see their teachers.”
ACPS is going to need to get the equipment back at some point, and staff are considering letting students keep with throughout the summer.
“It will be it will definitely be different because, when or if the traditional school year starts back in the fall we will certainly need to collect and prepare and clean and make sure that they’re all ready to go,” Hoover said. “That may be a challenge, but I think we saw other ones that are much bigger than that.”
Hoover’s biggest challenge was identifying families without internet access.
“That took a lot of work from schools and social workers to help us do that. That’s been a challenge,” she said. “Now, I think we have a better idea of our actual numbers of students that do not have internet access. Times like this are time opportunities for innovation, and we need to look at different ways we can get our students internet access on a permanent basis.”
Photo via ACPS/Facebook
Catch on the Avenue Closing — “In a quick social media post on Sunday, December 8, 2019, Catch on the Avenue, 2419 Mount Vernon Avenue, announced it is closing. ‘It is with regret that we announce the permanent closing of Catch on the Ave. Thank you for all your support. We look forward to seeing you at our other locations.'” [Zebra]
Some Residents Want to Ban Waze — “A few residents asked why Alexandria can’t just ban Waze and other congestion-avoidance apps from allowing commuters through certain parts of the City where cut-through traffic is the worst. The reason Mayor Wilson gave: free speech. Other municipalities that have tried to block Waze have lost in court on the premise that Waze is simply providing data to the public and thus has some protection.” [Alexandria Living]
Free Adoptions for the Holidays — “Those looking to add a furry member to the family are in luck this holiday season. Priority Toyota in Springfield, Virginia, is paying for all adoption fees, spaying and neutering and other medical expenses for all pets ages six months and up at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria… The adoption fee promotion runs through January 2, 2020.” [WTOP]
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
City Phone Service Restored — The City of Alexandria’s non-emergency phone lines are working again after service was restored Tuesday night. A cut to a fiber optic line caused the outage, a city spokeswoman said. [Twitter/@AlexandriaVAGov]
House With George Washington Connection on Airbnb — “George Washington may have slept here, and now so could you… in the heart of Old Town Alexandria in Virginia, where a house that once belonged to the first U.S. president is available to rent. The George of Old Town is a 6000-square-foot townhouse on Cameron Street, and it is available on Airbnb.” [WTOP]
Life Savers Recognized by AFD — “Recently when a colleague collapsed, his coworkers dialed 9-1-1 and performed CPR until fire department units arrived. Yesterday, AFD recognized Stefan Jaeger, Rebecca Rosario, Tammy Lafley, and Nick Canfield for their heroic acts that helped save a life.” [Twitter]
Nutcracker Returns Next Month — “Now in its 11th year, the Alexandria Community Nutcracker is continuing its own tradition of performing the famous ballet with a modern twist by including tap, jazz, gymnastics, Irish dance, and hip hop in the choreography. More than 250 dancers and musicians, from age 3 to age 18, bring the magic and eloquence of Tchaikovsky’s 1892 classic score to life on stage at West Potomac High School.” [Gazette Packet]
Bread & Water Back Open — After a devastating fire at the Belle View Shopping Center, local bakery and cafe Bread & Water has reopened. That has also allowed the company’s locations at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria and Pentagon Row in Arlington to reopen, as the Belle View store supplied each location with fresh bread and other offerings. [Zebra]