The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the franchise agreement with Comcast Cable Television during its meeting. The agreement is similar to the cable franchise agreement with Verizon, which the board approved last June.
Under the 15-year term's agreement, Comcast will provide the county $100,000 up front and $1 per subscriber per month. The funds would be available for use in support or construction of public, educational and government channels and the Institutional Network. Following the approval of the franchise agreement, Comcast will begin paying the funding of approximately $300,000 per year for the channels and the network in addition to the 5 percent franchise fee, which totals approximately $1.2 million per year.
In addition, Comcast has agreed to maintain a density threshold of 20 homes per mile. If there are 20 homes within a linear mile, Comcast must make its services available to those residents. Verizon's initial threshold is 30 homes per mile. Comcast also agreed to offer service to residents who live in less populated areas, if the residents living in an area with a density of at least 15 homes per mile will all commit to taking the service.
Before the Feb. 20 meeting, Comcast was operating under an extension of the 1998 Adelphia cable franchise, which would have expired Feb. 28. In April 2005, Adelphia, which filed for bankruptcy in 2002, accepted a $17.6 buyout offer from Comcast.
IF THE BOARD had not approved the franchise agreement, Comcast could have applied for an Ordinance Based Franchise under Virginia state law that could have been more restrictive and may not have yielded any additional funding for the county, but some board members voiced their dissatisfaction with the way in which Comcast was conducting business in the county.
Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad) said she had received inquiries from some of her constituents about why the price for their Internet service was increasing by 30 percent.
"You're using the same lines that Adelphia had so there is no change in the infrastructure," Waters said. "Thirty percent is a substantial increase to go from one month to the next."
Marie Schuler, director of government and community affairs for Comcast Northern Virginia, told the board that the prices being given to Loudoun residents is the same pricing given nationally to customers who only use the company's Internet service.
"Adelphia had a policy where they straight lined the pricing across the board to their customers, whether they were bundled or not," Schuler said. "This differs slightly from the Comcast policy, which charges a higher rate for customers that take Internet only."
WATERS SAID the 30 percent increase, which will take effect March 1, is too much for Loudoun residents, some of whom might find they are priced out of broadband services.
Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) called the price increase "predatory," stating he would have voted down the franchise if it had been a viable option for the board.
"We did everything humanly possible to make the transition from Adelphia to Comcast a beautiful thing," he said. "A 30 percent rate hike for any of these people is ridiculous."
Tulloch said he believed the rate hike had more to do with having a monopoly than anything else and encouraged Verizon to lay their cables and fiber optics as soon as possible.
"We need to have true competition in this county," he said.
Only Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) defended Comcast at the meeting, stating that the price increase is a result of the company’s growing business and the money it has had to spend updating the county's cable infrastructure.
"Verizon does the same thing," he said. "All the companies do the same thing I think. It's kind of the price of progress."
Schuler did acknowledge that Comcast has already spent several million dollars updating the infrastructure and that extensive work will be done throughout the year on bringing the cable plant up to "standards that are much more applicable to what customers should expect in the 21st century."