In the time since the past Loudoun Board of Supervisors rejected an agreement to renew OpenBand Communications’ franchise in the county, the company and its customers do not appear any closer to coming to terms.
OpenBand serves a little more than 4,000 homes in Loudoun in several communities, including Lansdowne on the Potomac, Lansdowne Village Greens, Southern Walk at Broadlands and communities within Leisure World. A series of lawsuits has been filed by some of the communities against OpenBand, while OpenBand filed, but did not serve a suit on the county regarding last year’s franchise rejection. While several suits against OpenBand have been dismissed, at least one remains, while an appeal appears imminent for another.
During all the hearings about lawsuits, a new majority took over the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, which now must decide which course of action makes the most sense for residents.
In remarks on behalf of OpenBand, Ben Young, director of government affairs for OpenBand parent company M.C. Dean, said the open video service provider had complied with the county’s requirements for a franchise. He also said OpenBand had offered to negotiate agreements to settle many of the complaints described by representatives of the communities it serves.
“OpenBand meets every requirement for a franchise agreement contained in the county OVS [open value subscription] ordinance,” Young said, adding that the company also agreed to forego all of its future options to renew contracts with its communities. OpenBand in most cases has retained the right to renew those agreements for another 40 years.
However, the community representatives said OpenBand was simply putting on a show for the board and should be granted the ability to continue operating the franchise in Loudoun. Suggestions for moving forward by homeowners' associations were ignored, according to some representatives, unless supervisors stepped in.
“They chose to simply ignore these ideas rather than offer reasonable discussion,” said Tom Jeavons, president of the Lansdowne Village Greens Board of Directors. “We fear OpenBand-M.C. Dean’s hope is to distract this board with background noise and diversion about their willingness to compromise. We feel like a dog chasing its own tail.”
OpenBand claims it offers a service comparable to Comcast and Verizon for a lower cost, while the residents disagreed, primarily complaining about poor video service—including the loss of service for many customers during the end of this year’s Super Bowl—and a lack of new technologies offered by competitors.
Southern Walk HOA member Doug Granzow said when OpenBand did sit down to talk, negotiations were hostile. Granzow said that when he challenged the company’s assertion that its service is the cheapest in the county, the company’s representative said: “It’s comments like that about our pricing that make me want to jump over this table and stab you with a sharp object.”
Customers currently are required to pay for OpenBand’s service, and cannot subscribe to a competing wire-based service because of exclusive easements. Those that choose a satellite dish service must pay those fees in addition to HOA fees that include the OpenBand service.
Three OpenBand employees and one customer spoke in favor of the franchise agreement, while 14 spoke against it, including HOA representatives from Lansdowne on the Potomac, Lansdowne Village Greens and Southern Walk.
OpenBand said it would adjust contracts with the communities to address many of their concerns, including the offer to sell the easements to the communities. But community representatives were concerned such promises would not be carried out, particularly since the video service continues to have problems after three years of negotiating the franchise agreement.
“If OpenBand is unwilling or unable to deal with the video service quality while they’re under scrutiny of the franchise agreement, how should we expect them to get religion after you grant that agreement?” asked Larry Miller, a member of the Lansdowne on the Potomac board. “Every day we deal with major issues with out video service.”
After some speakers offered up their monthly bills, a few supervisors noted that they were paying much more for cable service; however, there was no was of knowing whether the service packages and equipment fees of the various households were comparable.
When Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) asked about reaching an agreement on the easements as part of or prior to the franchise vote, David Catania—counsel for M.C. Dean and OpenBand, and a Washington, D.C. councilmember—stepped in to say the company did not intend to mix the two discussions.
Buona said he was aware of OpenBand’s lack of responsiveness to at least one community.
“One of my concerns in this whole process has been, if one of us supervisors didn’t make the call … the responsiveness to Lansdowne Village Greens was minimal,” Buona said. “I realize you are not in litigation with them like you are with Lansdowne on the Potomac.”
However, Buona held out hope that an agreement could be reached, if given time, so he proposed a 90-day extension of the decision, which enables OpenBand to continue to operate during that time without violating county ordinance.
“I think there’s still some hope to negotiate,” he said, adding that he hoped to resolve the issue without further litigation. “We’re not there, but I think we have to give it one more try. It’s a complex issue. There’s lots of moving parts.”
The board declined to vote on a proposal by Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) to send the item to the June 19 board meeting for a vote.
The board voted 7-1-1 for the 90-day extension, with Delgaudio voting against and County Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) absent for the vote.