Manassas residents will soon be the first in the United States to buy Internet access over city power lines.
The City Council voted unanimously on Thursday to grant a franchise to Prospect Street Broadband, LLC., bringing a year-long preparation process to fruition.
Residents can purchase the service within 120 days of the contract signing, which is expected to occur next week, according to Energy Services Manager Brett Massey.
In May 2002, a small pilot group of city residents and businesses began using the service. A modem is plugged into the electrical outlet on one end, and the computer on the other, to gain high-speed access to the Internet.
“They were very impressed by the speed, reliability and flexibility,” said Utilities Director Allen Todd.
Freda Wallace, an administrative assistant with Robert Loveless Architecture in Old Town Manassas said the company has been receiving the service since February.
“We’ve had good service with it,” Wallace said. “The only time it has been down is because of our equipment, or because they’re testing something on the lines because it is a pilot program.”
The Connecticut-based company that received the franchise will be responsible for the equipment, connection, monthly billing, advertising and 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week customer support. The city will expand the current fiber network, which is almost complete, update optical electronics and install and maintain equipment external to the residents’ homes.
“The grantee will be providing most of the capital of this project and assume most of the risk,” said John Hewa, assistant electric director for the City of Manassas. “There’s very little financial risk to the city.”
John F. Berry, chairman and CEO of Prospect Street Broadband, said the service is very easy to use and no special training is necessary. Residents can purchase the service and obtain access from any city outlet.
“You sign up once and you can sign on at home, a friend’s house, the ice skating rink, where ever,” Berry said.
If residents opt for this Internet service provider, they will pay approximately half of normal high-speed access, as the tentative service price is $29.95 a month for residents, and $69.95 for commercial access.
“It will be competitively priced and a quality service,” said Vice Mayor Harry J. Parrish II.
Wallace said the service was comparable in speed to any DSL program available. “It’s very fast,” she said.
And as a fringe benefit, the city can also monitor power outages through this technology. Todd said the city has been trying for years to achieve that capability.
Two bids were received on Sept. 8, and Todd said the city spent a considerable amount of time examining both proposals to ensure the best outcome for residents.
“We’ve never had a franchise quite like this before,” Todd said. “We wanted to make sure we had measures that would protect the services we promise the citizens.”
The contract that the council voted to approve calls for a 10-year term, with a five-year extension. A minimum payment of $24,000 after the first year, and $124,000 after the second and third year is guaranteed to the city. Initial figures project that Manassas could receive up to $4.5 million in revenue after the 10-year period.
Councilman Ulysses X. White questioned city staff about future price hikes, as he was reminiscent of a similar situation with cable television in the city.
But Todd said with competition available, residents wouldn’t be stuck with high bills and no options. Rather, this new offer gives residents exactly that — options.
Councilman Eugene R. Rainville said residents will benefit from an extra use of the electrical system their tax dollars already fund.
“Now they can get Internet at a low price,” Rainville said. “I would encourage all of our citizens to at least look at it as an alternative.”
And according to Parrish, residents may receive an added bonus if enough people patronize this service.
“It looks like the council might have the opportunity to look at tax reduction,” Parrish said.