City Council will hold public hearings Tuesday on two ordinances that would help Fredericksburg meet its goal of becoming the city with the fastest broadband in Virginia.
The hearings will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Council Chambers in City Hall, 715 Princess Anne St. Both will deal with granting 10-year, non-exclusive franchises to high-speed internet infrastructure companies. The franchises would allow them to install fiber optic infrastructure and small cell technology in the city’s public rights-of-way.
The two companies, Newpath Networks LLC and Tenebris Fiber LLC, are in the business of expanding broadband infrastructure that they lease to providers. Newpath Networks is seeking a franchise so it can install small-cell wireless facilities, which would enhance wireless connectivity, and fiber optic cabling, which would expand wired broadband access. The other company, Tenebris Fiber wants one so it can build dark fiber infrastructure.
NewPath Networks is a wireless infrastructure company that designs, develops and operates fiber-fed wireless carrier networks for wireless carriers, wired and wireless Internet service providers, communities, university campuses, large corporate and retail campuses, sports arenas and stadiums and neighborhoods in the United States. It is a subsidiary of Crown Castle, the nation’s largest provider of wireless infrastructure.
Tenebris is a dark fiber provider offering infrastructure in several major markets in Virginia. It leases bandwidth on its fiber network to companies and others that need to expand their broadband capacity. The company’s first project, if the franchise is approved Tuesday, would be in conjunction with a Fredericksburg City Public Schools project.
Fiber for both Tenebris and the school system would be installed at the same time in the same trench, which meets the city’s “one dig” goal. The city schools’ project involves federal funding, which will expire if the project is not completed by June 30.
Both franchises agreements are based on the city’s template franchise for small-cell franchises, which was developed in 2017. It contains standard protections for the city, such as relocation and removal provisions, and insurance and bond requirements. Both franchise ordinances before City Council would allow installations citywide.
All installations under the agreements would be reviewed by the Public Works Department. The franchises do not allow installations on city facilities—those would still need to be negotiated as separate agreements.
Tenebris has proposed one change to its agreement. In lieu of paying cash fees for permit applications under the franchise, it would have the option to propose in-kind contributions (such as conduit or cabling) that would advance the city’s internal fiber network or advance one of City Council’s goals or priorities.
Those in-kind contributions would have to be at least equivalent in value to the standard one-time permit review fees of $500 per new proposed structure, $100 per proposed collocation, and $1 per linear foot of proposed cabling or conduit. Suzanne Tills, Fredericksburg’s chief information officer, would decide whether to accept any proposed in-kind contributions that are in conformance with those conditions.
According to an online survey that the city conducted between April 16 and July 1, citizens and businesses are satisfied, but not overwhelmed, by broadband service in the city, “but competition is needed to improve price & speed, reliability of internet services is a concern for businesses, and there is a growing demand for broadband (education/training),” Tills said in an email Monday.
She added that the city is interested in having the Center for Innovative Technology, which is in Herndon, do a broadband assessment.
“It will allow the city to explore new ways of looking at our data and analyzing the results,” Tills said. “For example, we could drill down into property management data sets and plot these on spatial data to help us identify areas to direct more resources.”
She said the city may release a request for information for a fiber co-location opportunity as early as today.
“It will invite parties interested in co-locating fiber and conduit with the city to save money, preserve our right-of-way space and limit disruption to our citizens through One-Dig,” she said.
City Council will also hold a public hearing Tuesday on renewal of Columbia Gas of Virginia’s franchise to provide natural gas service citywide for 40 years. The franchise expired in December of 2016, but the company continued to serve customers while the city attorney’s office and the Department of Public Works negotiated the terms of a new agreement with Columbia.
The franchise dates back to 1956, when it was granted to the Natural Gas Service Company. Natural Gas Service was later acquired by Commonwealth Gas Services, Inc., which was then acquired by Columbia Gas of Virginia.
Columbia is legally entitled to a franchise on the terms comparable to those granted to other franchisees in the city, and this agreement is similar to the city’s other franchises.