By Olivia Anderson | [email protected]
City Council approved two right-of-way franchises, Ting and Lumos Telephone, for broadband services at its public hearing on Saturday.
The much-anticipated approval will allow the two internet providers to use public rights-of-ways in Alexandria for “the design, construction, operation, installation, maintenance, repair, upgrade, removal and operation of a fiber to the premises broadband network for offering broadband internet access and related infrastructure in the city,” according to the report from city staff.
Previously, Comcast was the single choice for broadband service in the city.
Mike Saperstein, head of government affairs and general counsel for Lumos, said that he’s excited to provide “future-proof, multi-gigabyte 100% fiber service” to the city and highlighted Lumos’ service in both rural and urban areas.
However he also said that while the city’s goals of creating competition are understandable, “there is a fine line to continued business viability under this franchise due to provisions that “differ from others we’ve seen and affect the competitive landscape and leave us with some important business considerations in the days ahead as to its viability.”
Elliot Noss, CEO of Ting, asserted that internet access is “core infrastructure” and should be thought of in the same way as water and power, where the goal of equal access is implied.
“We have very aggressive obligations around equal access, around providing free WiFi access in parks, around providing free internet access to those who need it embedded in the franchise agreement,” Noss said. He also called on the city to partner with them on certain public works issues related to construction and requirements in the coming weeks.
City Council generally agreed that the approval is a step forward for the city, but Councilor Canek Aguirre also pointed out that “equal access isn’t equitable access.”
“That’s very important to keep in mind. I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to say this council has equity as a very high priority and that our city has equity as a very high priority, so I just want to keep that in both groups’ minds,” Aguirre said.
Councilor Sarah Bagley questioned when the community will start to see impacts, to which Deputy City Manager Laura Triggs responded that next steps include construction and permitting.
“Over the next 30 to 60 days we’ll be working with them on how we want to get the permits in and what the construction standards look like,” Triggs said. “Once they sign, they can start submitting permits. We’ll have a review period for the permits but they can start signaling when they want to construct.”
Mayor Justin Wilson said this process has been a long time coming and that he’s excited for the city to move forward on what is a highly-anticipated piece of infrastructure.
“Something we’ve been talking about for well over a decade is finally happening and this is an investment in the basic infrastructure of our community, and something that is seen as essential in most of the world,” Wilson said. “We have clearly more work to do to get there but this is really exciting.”
Vice Mayor Amy Jackson moved to approve the item, with a second from Councilor John Chapman. The motion passed unanimously, 7-0.