At its regular meeting this evening, Alexandria City Council unanimously directed the City Manager to identify companies interested in negotiating cable television or broadband Internet franchises that could leverage a City-owned fiber-optic network. The goal of the initiative is to increase consumer choice in cable, voice, and data services, which may help lower consumer costs and increase available speeds.
The City plans to upgrade its fiber backbone infrastructure to support data transport among the City’s public institutions, including schools, libraries, public safety buildings, and other City facilities. The current institutional network, or “ I-Net,” which was the first network of its kind in Virginia, now connects nearly 90 municipal and educational facilities. Most of the fiber for this network is currently leased from Comcast Virginia, Inc., but analysis by City staff indicates long-term operational and financial advantages of City ownership, such as better cost predictability and scalability of network service delivery in the future.
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 and one landline telephone franchisee in Alexandria, and there are no broadband Internet franchises. The City has actively pursued other potential providers, but companies are typically reluctant to make multimillion-dollar capital investments in new fiber networks. The City will seek new franchisees who could lease excess capacity on the City’s new network and provide service to residents and businesses. This would allow all providers to compete on a level playing field, and would prevent the City from competing with private providers for consumer service.
City staff will further assess the market and present City Council with a draft ordinance to solicit new franchise agreements. Any responsive company or consortium, including any current providers in Alexandria, would be free to bid. Any new franchisee would receive financial terms equivalent to existing providers.
At tonight’s meeting, City Council also voted unanimously to extend Comcast’s cable television franchise and fiber lease agreement, each for five years. The franchise agreement requires a five-year extension if the company is in substantial compliance with the terms of the agreement. Federal and state law prohibit the City from considering general consumer satisfaction when determining compliance. Comcast will continue to provide the City with capital grants to offset the cost of leasing fiber and maintaining equipment used for the I-Net and for the City’s television channel. The City has negotiated new terms for the fiber lease agreement that will support a faster transition to a City-owned network in the future.
City Council, the Council-appointed Commission on Information Technology, and City staff have been active in working to ensure expanded consumer broadband options, and the franchise initiative marks progress in the City’s efforts to upgrade the community’s digital infrastructure. In July 2015, the City issued a formal Request for Information (RFI) to ask the private and nonprofit broadband industry and other interested parties to help evaluate the possibility of upgrading broadband Internet infrastructure in Alexandria. Tonight’s actions are based on the ideas generated by the responses to the RFI.
Alexandria is a place where technology thrives and is an integral part of doing business. Attracted by a business-friendly and fiscally responsible government (one of only a select group in the country with at least two AAA bond ratings), one of the most educated workforces in the United States, and an outstanding quality of life, more than 200 technology companies, employing approximately 10,000, call Alexandria home.