Supervisors, EDA discuss proposed sale of county Comcast service to Atlantic Broadband

aluck@tidewaterreview.com

King William residents may soon have another choice when it comes to cable, phone and internet service.

Supervisors, Economic Development Authority members and county staff discussed the proposed take over of the county’s Comcast video franchise service by Atlantic Broadband at a joint meeting Feb.11.

Marie Schuler, director of government and community affairs for Comcast, discussed the company’s proposed sale of their service; she was joined by Fran Bradley, director of government affairs, and Scott Randall, vice president and general manager of Maryland and Delaware for Atlantic Broadband, as well as county officials.

“We are looking to sell our franchise in the county to Atlantic Broadband at no cost to the county,” Schuler said. “This will provide residents with expanded services and Atlantic Broadband is more centrally located for service than Comcast.”

Schuler said Comcast has 45 customers in the county and needs the board’s consent to move forward with an agreement with Atlantic Broadband.

Service is limited in the county, even in Central Garage where most of the Comcast customers are, according to Bradley.

“This will provide residents and business owners with the option of upgraded television, phone and internet service,” Bradley said. “We can also do fiber ties underground between facilities to connect the two and fiber lines for wireless cell phone providers.”

The upgrade would take one year after finalizing the agreement with Comcast, which will hopefully be in March and definitely before June, according to Bradley.

Supervisor David Hansen asked Bradley if he had discussed the plan with the EDA; Bradley said he’s discussed it with the King William Internet Connectivity Committee.

Randall said Comcast’s 1988 agreement in the county expires soon, and Atlantic Broadband wants to expand their service throughout the county.

“We are looking at putting in a significant investment in this growing county and would work with and help the county in any way we can,” Randall said.

Supervisor Bob Ehrhart asked if customers would see increased service rates. Randall said the rate will have a small increase, although they aren’t sure what the specific rate will be at this time.

“It depends on the tier of service a customer chooses,” Randall said. “We will know and provide that information to you and send letters out to residents when the transfer agreement is finalized.”

Atlantic Broadband cable service comes with service packages, on-demand watching and pay-per-view, according to Bradley.

Supervisor Stephen Greenwood asked if they will put in new cable lines or use existing ones. New ones will be put in and any existing lines in good condition will be used, according to Randall.

Brian Hodges and Supervisor Travis Moskalski said they want to see the franchise agreement from 1988 that the county supervisors signed with Comcast.

Moskalski asked county administrator Bobbie Tassinari to bring back more information for the board’s Feb. 25 meeting.

The 1988 franchise agreement was set to expire in 15 years — 2003 — and in the agreement Comcast provides the county with 3 percent of its annual gross basic operating revenue through the state’s communication tax every year, according to the franchise agreement.

The county has received revenue from Comcast monthly through the state’s communication tax, according to finance director Natasha Langston.

It is unclear if the agreement was extended in 2003 due to lack of vigorous county records from that time period, according to Langston.

Atlantic Broadband will officially acquire the Comcast franchise in the county if the board passes a resolution approving the agreement formed by the two companies, according to Tassinari.

Next Generation 911

Tassinari discussed the state’s 911 dispatch service plan — Next Generation 911 — with the board and EDA.

The plan, developed for localities by the state’s emergency 911 services board with Virginia Information Technologies Agency, allows for location and time-specific data, calls to be easily transferred and mapping systems for localities’ 911 dispatch systems, according to the VITA website.

In a January interview, Tassinari said the service moves local 911 dispatch from analog systems to internet service systems so calls can be transferred and not missed when a dispatch or station is not available.

The county will start preparations and planning for the project in 2019, and implementation will begin in January 2020. The project costs $834,344.17, which will be paid by the state’s 911 service board.

The county’s monthly rate for 911 service will go from $1,441.96 to $4,416.96 when the project is complete. The state’s 911 service board will pay localities the difference in the rates for 24 months once the service is up and running. For King William, that will be $2,975 monthly, according to Tassinari.

Tassinari brought up the project at the meeting as the county and other localities need to decide what service provider they will be using with the system.

“Fairfax County put out a request for proposal for their service and will be going with AT&T,” Tassinari said. “The city of Virginia Beach has a request out to look at provider costs compared to Fairfax and AT&T.”

The county can either go with Fairfax and AT&T’s proposal or wait for Virginia Beach’s estimate to come back, Tassinari said.

“My only concern is that the request for proposal for this project is very complicated, and waiting for Virginia Beach’s estimate may be hard on our staff to start getting things together,” Tassinari said.

Ehrhart and Moskalski said when they spoke with other county officials at the 2018 Virginia Association of Counties annual conference in November, some said they are waiting for Virginia Beach’s estimate and are not far along in the process themselves.

Both Ehrhart and Moskalski said they’d like to see Virginia Beach’s service estimate, Bill Hodges said he thinks the Fairfax estimate will be easier on the staff time-wise.

Tassinari said she will reach out to Virginia Beach to find out about their deadline and will come back to the board when she has new information, per the board’s overall consensus.

Other

The county is still in the process of drafting an agreement with King William Volunteer Fire and Rescue to manage the department, according to Tassinari.

“The department’s board came back with questions, we answered them and hopefully soon we will discuss and approve it, then bring it to the board,” Tassinari said. “I would hope to have it for the board’s discussion at the March 11 meeting.”

» The board voted 4-1 against, with Hodges voting for, a resolution allowing funds from the sale of county property to go to an account reserve for the EDA.

» The board approved 4-1, with Hansen voting against, a resolution to allow the EDA to apply for funding from a industrial revitalization fund to support business efforts in the county. The funds are allocated by the General Assembly and administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.The EDA will have to come to the board to approve the use of the funds, according to Tassinari. The maximum funds the EDA could receive is $600,000, according to the Department of Housing and Community Development website.

» Parks and Recreation manager Allison Fox presented an update on the restroom/concessions and drainage area renovations at the park, projected to finish in March and the increase in participation in services and classes the department has seen.

»EDA vice chairman Ed Moren made a presentation on behalf of the King William Internet Connectivity Committee on ideas and future possibilities to expand and bring better service to the county.

» Moskalski was reappointed unanimously to serve on the Middle Peninsula District Alliance.

Luck can be reached at 757-291-2038, aluck@tidewaterreview.com or @ashleyrluck on Twitter

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