Town Stands Up to a Utility Giant

Town Stands Up to a Utility Giant

Vienna Town Council tells Verizon to play by the rules.

Douglas Brammer and the Vienna Town Council agreed on one thing at the council's Oct. 18 meeting — fiberoptic cables would benefit town residents.

"This is an opportunity, we feel, to serve your constituents," Brammer, area manager for external affairs for Verizon said. "We believe Vienna is a good place to invest our energy and our assets."

Once installed, the cables would provide for more reliable voice service and would allow faster data connections, Brammer said. It would also have the capability to upgrade to provide video service, but Verizon does not currently have plans to install such a service, he continued.

"I believe the citizens of Vienna would be well served," said Councilmember George Lovelace. Lovelace however was concerned about the lack of a franchise agreement between the town and Verizon.

Companies offering most telecommunication services are required to have a franchise agreement — a kind of contract — with the town. The agreement allows the company to build telephone poles in the public right of way, and set terms for its construction and maintenance. The last telephone franchise expired in 1992.

BASIC TELEPHONE service, however is considered a utility and is exempt from the requirement to have such an agreement.

Additionally, the town was concerned about a lack of notice about the plans. Companies are not required to share their fiberoptic network with other providers. So there is a rush to install the network and be the first in an area. As a result of this competitive situation, companies are hesitant to announce plans to move into an area.

The council was more concerned with having an agreement in place than with Verizon's business issues. "I don't see how we can go without a franchise agreement," Lovelace said. "We want to do it … However, in the interest of doing what's right, we need to have this telecommunications franchise agreement."

The council was also concerned that the lack of a franchise agreement would allow Verizon to have a competitive advantage. "I'm concerned about setting a level playing field for what we're requiring," said Councilmember Edythe Kelleher.

The agreement would take some time to work out, and Brammer said that Verizon would be "happy" to enter into one with the town.

However, while the agreement was being negotiated, Verizon would begin installing the fiberoptics somewhere else. "We would re-deploy those assets to another area," Brammer said.

He could not estimate when Verizon would get back to Vienna if the company were not granted approval quickly, and the amount of time would depend on the terms of the franchise agreement. "We would reassess at that time," he said.

Town Manager John Schoeberlein expressed frustration with Verizon's tactics. "It's gotten to the point of 'We're going to take our ball and go home,'" Schoeberlein said.

The council unanimously approved that a franchise agreement be put in place and that after such an agreement has been approved by the council, Verizon may begin to install the fiberoptic network.