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Arlington County is extending its agreement with Comcast for a year.

Comcast has held the county’s main cable franchise since 1998, when it was awarded to a cable operator it later acquired. The Philadelphia-based media and telecom conglomerate last had its local franchise agreement renewed for a standard five-year term in 2016.

The franchise agreement is what allows Comcast to serve customers in Arlington, to the exclusion of other traditional cable providers. Verizon’s FiOS fiber optic TV and internet service has its own franchise agreement in Arlington. Such agreements are made at the state or locality level and mandated by Congress.

The government-granted monopoly lets cable operators make the significant investment required to string cable and connect homes while local governments get fees and/or other benefits in return. Without such agreements and regulation, utility poles might be full of competing cable infrastructure and companies might opt to only serve the more profitable parts of town.

The Arlington County Board voted over the weekend to extend the agreement for a year while it continues to negotiate with Comcast, a process that was disrupted by the pandemic, according to a staff report. It also took three years of extensions before the last long-term agreement was signed.

The current agreement will now run through next December. Comcast has indicated that it wants to renew the long-term agreement and keep serving Arlington.

More from the staff report:

The County Board has issued Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity to three entities for the provision of cable television service: Comcast, Verizon, and RCN Corporation. The Comcast franchise was previously extended by one year and now expires on December 9, 2022. To continue the Comcast renewal process, the County must extend the existing Certificate.

[…]

By letter dated March 6, 2019, Comcast sent to the County a notice of its desire to renew the Certificate, as provided for by 47 U.S.C. § 546. The COVID pandemic significantly impacted the County’s ability to commence good-faith face-to-face negotiations. Accordingly, the proposed Resolution extends the period available for negotiation beyond the expected duration of the pandemic from December 9, 2022 to December 9, 2023.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

Longtime Arlington resident Jay Hedley flew A-10 fighter jets for 12 years in the Maryland Air National Guard.

When flying missions, his plane would track and record what he could see in front of him, as well as the targeting of missiles using a heads-up display. He and other pilots would review the video footage together after flying a mission to debrief.

“So then the idea came,” he said, “why don’t we train athletes the same way we use technology like this from the jet?”

So he founded HeadVantage, which equips athletes with mini cameras and eye-tracking technology. The HeadVantage camera can be fitted under the bill of a baseball cap and track the eye movements of the wearer. It can also measure the diameter of the wearer’s pupils a hundred times per second, Hedley said.

Apart from tracking eye movements, the camera also records high-definition, stabilized video footage that can be streamed live and shown on TV.

“One way you can think of it is, where GoPro can’t go,” said Hedley, distinguishing HeadVantage from the popular action camera brand.

The HeadVantage camera is fitted into a pair of golf glasses (via SportsTech)

Because of the camera’s eye-tracking and streaming abilities, HeadVantage can provide unique content to sports fans, said Jenna Kurath, the head of Comcast NBCU SportsTech.

“To be able to see it from the perspective of the athlete, to get into the mind of the athlete through the eye-tracking of those split-second decisions that they’re making,” she said, “this is going to bring new fan-engagement content to the forefront.”

With this camera, sports commentators will be able to analyze an athlete’s performance from their viewpoint.

“Oftentimes our commentators will do the replay and say, ‘How did they do this?'” Kurath said. “Now this is the ability to kind of see it through the eyes of the athlete to really get a little bit more into their mind.”

Arlington-based HeadVantage was selected as part of Comcast NBCUniversal’s SportsTech Accelerator in 2022, a program that connected 10 startups with different program partners, such as NBC Sports, World Wrestling Entertainment and NASCAR. HeadVantage was chosen from among over 800 applicants around the world, according to a news release from NBCUniversal.

Since joining the program, HeadVantage has been prototyping the camera to be used in golf, fitting it in golfers’ glasses.

Instructors in NBC Sports’ golf shows, such as School of Golf‘s Martin Hall and others in the company’s subscribers-only GolfPass content, have used HeadVantage cameras, said Kurath, who also ran the startup program. The camera will be used in a few celebrity golf tournaments in the summer, she noted.

Founder Jay Hedley stands at the HeadVantage station at a Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech Accelerator event (courtesy photo)

Hedley founded the startup in 2020, according to his LinkedIn page. Currently, his main customer is NBC Sports and his main goal for HeadVantage this year is to get the camera used in NBC golf coverage.

“I’d love to get embedded in NBC golf this year, maybe with baseball this year,” Hedley said, “So baseball and golf will be the two sports we’d focus on this year.”

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Morning Notes

ART bus in traffic in Ballston (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Crashed Car Still Along Riverbank — “Two months after a man’s car careened two hundred feet off George Washington Parkway in Virginia, the National Park Service is developing a plan to remove the vehicle from an embankment next to the Potomac River… Police tape surrounds the car, which remains resting upside down. The driver’s papers and personal belongings are still scattered next to the car, which has graffiti painted on it.” [Patch]

February Rents Up Slightly — “The median monthly rental for an apartment in the county last month was $1,982 for a one-bedroom unit and $2,399 for two bedrooms, according to data reported March 1 by Apartment List. Compared to the period immediately preceding the arrival of the pandemic in March 2020, Arlington rents are up 0.5 percent.” [Sun Gazette]

Clarendon-Based Axios Expanding — “This year, Axios is pouring $30 million into expanding its footprint, said Jim VandeHei, the chief executive. It is spreading into cities (Axios Local), industries (Axios Pro) and workplaces (Axios HQ)… It now has more than 400 employees, with 150 in its newsroom in Arlington, Va., and 2.2 million subscribers across its 34 national and global newsletters.” [New York Times]

Arlington Man Arrested for Abduction — “Victim One stated that she had been at an establishment in the 500 block of 23rd Street S. with the known suspect when they became involved in a verbal dispute. When Victim One attempted to leave with Victim Two and another witness, the suspect approached Victim One and allegedly began physically assaulting her before being separated by additional witnesses. The victims then went to retrieve Victim One’s vehicle from a garage in the 500 block of 12th Road S., when the suspect approached them, brandished a firearm and made threatening statements… A struggle ensued, during which the suspect attempted to prevent Victim One from leaving.” [Arlington County]

Comcast Upping Broadband Speeds — “Comcast announced today that it has increased speeds for its most popular Xfinity Internet tiers, providing an extra boost for millions of residential customers across 14 northeastern states from Maine through Virginia and the District of Columbia.” [Comcast]

Va. Tornado Drill Today — “Join us for the Statewide Tornado Drill TOMORROW at 9:45 AM! Practice sheltering from a #tornado: Go to a lower level of your home or office, away from windows. Get under sturdy shelter like a desk if you can.” [Twitter]

Record High Temperature Set — “For the second day in a row, record highs were set across the area. Highs of at least 80 in Washington, 76 at Dulles, and 78 at BWI are all records for the date. That 80-degree reading in the city is 10th-earliest on record.” [Capital Weather Gang]

It’s Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 56 and low of 41. Sunrise at 6:31 am and sunset at 6:10 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The lonely utility pole at Columbia Pike and S. Frederick Street in Sept. (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

The lonely utility pole protruding into a Columbia Pike intersection has not come down yet, the county confirms, despite assurances it was going to by the end of last year.

In September, ARLnow learned that an errant utility pole sitting a few feet from the sidewalk at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Frederick Street was scheduled to be removed. But that has yet to happen, due to at least one utility company not completing work to bury wires as part of the Columbia Pike multimodal project.

“Dominion Energy crews have completed removal of their overhead lines, with [the] exception of one property. Comcast’s contractor has completed removal of their overhead wires. Verizon is dealing with material shipment delays, which have deferred the process of scheduling their undergrounding work,” reads the county’s Jan. 6 project update. “When all three companies have removed their overhead wires, the utility poles along the roadway will be removed.”

The update on the website was made shortly after ARLnow reached out for more information based on a reader tip that the pole was still there.

There’s no timeline as to when the pole will be removed, a county spokesperson tells us.

The work may eventually result in the temporary closure of Columbia Pike lanes between the Arlington/Fairfax County line and the Four Mile Run Bridge during construction hours, they note.

In the fall of 2020, a traffic signal was installed at the intersection of S. Frederick Street and Columbia Pike near Arlington Mill. It was in response to a years-long request from residents and advocates to improve the intersection’s safety, which had seen a number of crashes and accidents over the years, including some involving pedestrians.

As part of that construction, the driveway to Arbor Heights — an affordable housing complex with an entrance right off Columbia Pike — was redone to align with S. Frederick Street. Previously, a cement island with a strip of sidewalk held the pole but that island was removed, leaving the pole all alone.

It’s surrounded by bollards and, though the county says it hasn’t received any complaints about it blocking or being dangerous to traffic, ARLnow has received several notes about it from concerned motorists.

A new underground duct bank was built and the utility companies are using it to bury the lines.

All of the ongoing work is part of the Columbia Pike multimodal street improvements project, which extends from the Arlington/Fairfax County line to S. Joyce Street in Pentagon City.

The goal is to “make Columbia Pike a safer, more accessible route for all users” as well as to transform “this main thoroughfare into a complete street that balances all modes of travel and supports high-quality, high-frequency transit service.”

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Morning Notes

Major Snow Storm Approaching — “At the low end, about 1 to 3 inches or so would fall on Sunday before precipitation changes to a light mix or even plain rain late Sunday into Monday. At the high end, at least 6 to 12 inches would accumulate, beginning Sunday and lasting into Monday night or Tuesday, perhaps mixed with sleet at times.” [Capital Weather Gang, Twitter]

Arlington GOP Eyes Comeback — “It took the election of Donald Trump in 2016 to re-energize and motivate Arlington’s dominant, but at that point somewhat moribund, Democrats. And the election result of 2020 may have had the same caffeinating impact on the Arlington County Republican Committee. ‘I’m super-pumped… by the number [of attendees] and the level of enthusiasm,’ party communications director Matthew Hurtt said at the Jan. 27 committee meeting, which attracted a crowd of about 80 to Zoom.” [InsideNova]

Bigger Comcast Bills Surprise Customers — “Dozens of Comcast Cable Communications customers in Maryland and Northern Virginia have been reaching out to FOX 5 saying, they’re concerned about their internet and WiFi bills going up as a result of hitting the new 1.2 terabyte data threshold.” [Fox 5]

Swooning Over a Woonerf — From WalkArlington: “While still early, we were excited by the idea of a woonerf in Arlington! Woonerf (pronounced VONE-erf) is a Dutch term that means ‘streets for living.’ It describes ‘common space created to be shared by pedestrians, bicyclists & low-speed motor vehicles.'” [Twitter]

Rosslyn CaBi Station Relocated — From Capital Bikeshare: “The 11-dock station at Quinn St & Key Blvd has been moved to Wilson & Quinn Blvd today. Happy riding!” [Twitter]

ARLnow’s 11th Anniversary — ARLnow started publishing 11 years ago today, just before a snowstorm. One year ago, we celebrated the anniversary with a big in-person event.

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As early as mid-spring, light poles along Wilson Blvd in Clarendon will be outfitted with new fixtures that monitor crowds and identify potential emergencies.

The technology will be installed sometime this spring as part of a pilot project involving multiple Arlington County departments as well as Comcast, the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative and US Ignite — a nonprofit focused on community innovation. The initiative is dubbed the “Safety and Innovation Zone demonstration project.”

During its recessed meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the County Board voted 4-1, with Takis Karantonis dissenting, in favor of the pilot project. US Ignite is donating $90,000 to buy the light fixtures, which Comcast will provide, along with a three-month trial of public Wi-Fi in the area.

Karantonis said his vote should not be interpreted as a vote of no-confidence, but rather, it should signal that he is still skeptical and would like to see more public engagement.

The primary use for the fixtures, to be installed along the 2900 block of Wilson Blvd, will be “people counting,” said Holly Hartell, who presented the project on behalf of the Department of Technology Services. In other words, the light fixtures will monitor crowd sizes and flow to recognize unexpected movements that could indicate a potential threat or emergency situation.

“This is an effort to speed things up where seconds and minutes count,” said Arlington County Fire Chief David Povlitz. “If we could gain information to send the right resource to the right place in a timely fashion that could really accelerate us operationally and also safety-wise.”

The light fixtures do not have the capacity to videotape people, capture images or provide identifying information, Hartell said. They can pick up the presence or absence of an event they have been programmed to detect, such as a large crowd moving quickly. This data will be converted into text and sent to a dashboard in the county’s Emergency Communications Center.

“Everything will be anonymous,” Hartell said. “You will never be able to identify an individual person.”

Later on, the technology could be used to detect falls, blasts, shots, and distress cries, as well as sudden temperature changes or the presence of smoke.

The fire chief added that “this [pilot] is just a start and we hope to be able to build this out in the county in time.”

“We are aware of people who are concerned,” Hartell later told ARLnow, of questions raised about the project. “I understand their concerns, and I want to give them the confidence that what we’re looking at is not going to be in any way impacting their privacy.”

The partners in the project — CCI, US Ignite and Comcast — are all providing best practices on collecting data while respecting privacy, she said. The county has also developed a privacy framework to use as it goes about the project.

“We are protecting people’s privacy while improving our services,” she said.

The pilot project will be in place for about one year. The first few months will be spent refining the uses for the technology, followed by six months of data collection, and finally, an assessment period. Next spring, the county will decide if the project could be replicated elsewhere. At that time, there will be robust public engagement opportunities, Hartell said.

During the meeting, Hartell said the block was chosen because it has a vibrant business district and a “pretty active restaurant and pedestrian activity,” even now during the pandemic.

One incident the technology might have caught in that location, had it been in place a few years ago: the famous 2018 Cheesecake Factory incident, when a promotion for free cheesecake got out of control

The original proposal was to focus on social distancing and mask-wearing, according to the staff report. A small number of business members of the Clarendon Alliance were consulted on the idea, and their concern led to a shift away from coronavirus measures, staff said.

Photo 1 via Google Maps, photos 2-3 via Arlington County

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Thousands of Comcast customers are reported to be without TV and internet service in Arlington tonight.

The outage is affecting a wide swath of the county, from far northern Arlington down at least to Columbia Pike, according to outage maps viewed by ARLnow.

Comcast is telling customers that it is working to restore service and hopes to do so by later tonight.

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Morning Notes

Special Election Voting Today — Voting is underway in the three-way special election to fill the late Erik Gutshall’s County Board seat. Polls are open from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. The candidates are Takis Karantonis, Susan Cunningham and Bob Cambridge. “Don’t forget your photo ID, ballpoint pen, and face mask,” Arlington’s election office said this morning in a tweet. [Twitter]

No Incentive Payments for Amazon This Year — “Amazon.com Inc. won’t receive any direct cash payments from Arlington County, this year at least, for its HQ2 office leases… because Amazon’s incentive payments are tied to Arlington’s tourism industry. And many rooms remain empty to this day.” [Washington Business Journal]

APS Working to Offer Free Internet Service — “In May, the Arlington County Board allocated $500,000 of funding for a joint County/School Internet Essentials Grant Program to provide broadband internet access to APS students in need. The grant, allocated as part of the federal [CARES] Act, will provide free, high-speed internet access to low-income families who qualify for Internet Essentials from Comcast. Arlington is the first community in Virginia to partner with Comcast to offer free broadband services to students and their families.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Flying Squirrel Rescued from Chimney — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “This little flying squirrel had been stuck in a local resident’s chimney since Saturday, but thankfully, Sgt Ballena was able to remove him and release him safely nearby!” [Twitter]

Synetic Organizing Joint Fundraiser — “Synetic Theater has partnered with the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) to raise $20,000 during the month of July to be split evenly between the organizations. This partnership was initiated by Synetic Theater to help fulfil the company’s desire to invest in their local community while they are unable to host live performances at their Crystal City/National Landing theater space.” [Press Release]

Interview With New Poet Laureate — “When Hollynd Karapetkova learned that she had been selected as Arlington County’s poet laureate, she saw it as a wonderful piece of good news and positive recognition at a time when everything in the world seemed so chaotic. ‘I’m really grateful that Arlington has gone ahead with this program in spite of all the chaos that’s unfolding,’ she said.” [Patch]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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(Updated 1 p.m.) The County Board is directing $500,000 in federal coronavirus stimulus and recovery funding towards closing a digital divide that the pandemic has made impossible to ignore.

“Broadband connectivity is not a luxury, it is essential for households,” County Board member Christian Dorsey said.

Dorsey said the digital divide between households with broadband internet access and those without was present before COVID-19, but social distancing and the school from home has made closing that gap more urgent than ever. Ten percent of Arlington households have no internet access, either through a wired or a mobile connection, according to a presentation Tuesday afternoon.

“This will be a critical piece in ensuring students don’t fall behind simply because they don’t have sufficient family income,” Dorsey said. Arlington Public Schools has said its rationale for not teaching new material remotely during the last half of the spring semester was because of concerns about equitable access to online resources.

Some 5,000 to 8,000 families could qualify for the county’s new program, which will provide 25/3 mbs “Internet Essentials” access and will be administered by Arlington Public Schools through a contract with Comcast. Dorsey said that internet access will also be vital for many to seek employment during and after the pandemic.

The funding is a relatively small piece of the $20.66 million in CARES Act funding allocated to Arlington and aimed at supporting programs and services impacted by COVID-19.

“This will be broadband connectivity with decent download speeds and upload speeds,” Dorsey said. “There will be no necessary costs to incur for equipment to access connectivity, it will be provided through Comcast with a self-installation kit.”

Dorsey said there will be no activation or installation fees. Internet access will also be bundled with an option to purchase a computer for $149.99.

“This pandemic has made it clear that the internet should be a utility, like water and electricity, and that everyone is going to need it in this day and age,” County Board Chair Libby Garvey said.

At its meeting last night the Board also approved $400,000 for the Arlington Food Assistance Center and Arlington Thrive, the nonprofit that provides emergency cash to those in need, and allocated an additional $500,000 to Thrive for emergency assistance, including rental assistance, to residents in need.

That’s on top of another $1 million allocated to Arlington Thrive via separate federal grants, an action that was also approved last night.

CARES Act funding will also go toward the purchase of personal protective equipment, staffing for coronavirus testing sites, and hiring more public health workers, among other things.

More from a county press release, below.

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Morning Notes

ACPD Provides Crystal City Shooting Update — “The Arlington County Police Department continues to investigate a non-fatal officer-involved shooting which occurred on August 28, 2019. The police department is committed to providing professional law enforcement services to the Arlington community while remaining transparent with the public regarding our operations. As a matter of transparency, the officer involved in the August shooting is Officer J. Clark.” [Arlington County]

Redevelopment Plan Includes Unique Towers — “The most interesting design among all of JBG’s proposals is for the two residential towers at 2525 Crystal, currently the home of the Crystal City Workout Park and a handful of sand volleyball courts.
Plans call for two interconnected towers with a stepped design, forming a V shape when viewed in profile.” [Washington Business Journal]

Favola Endorses Dehghani-Tafti — State Sen. Barbara Favola writes in an endorsement of Democratic Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney nominee Parisa Dehghani-Tafti: “Parisa will work day and night to bring balance to a justice system that has relied excessively on jail time when diversion programs and common-sense drug laws would better serve us. I look forward to working with Parisa as I continue to fight for expunging the records of juveniles and decriminalizing marijuana.” [Twitter]

Comcast Outage ReportedUpdated at 9:10 a.m. — Several tipsters are reporting a large Comcast cable outage in Arlington. A portion of the Comcast outage map reviewed by ARLnow shows at least 500 customers were without cable service as of 9 a.m.

Nearby: Squirrel Prompts Call to Police — “Scanner: Alexandria PD just dispatched a call regarding an ‘aggressive squirrel.'” [Twitter]

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Thousands of Comcast customers in Arlington are without internet, TV and phone service this afternoon.

A major Comcast outage is currently affecting large swaths of Arlington, from the northernmost part of the county down. Comcast’s outage map shows reported issues throughout residential North Arlington and much of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. (The map only shows areas near a given subscriber and ARLnow was unable to view areas south of the R-B corridor.)

Comcast is currently estimating restoration of service around 6-6:30 p.m.

The outage started just before 1 p.m., right around when a truck took down utility lines along Route 50. It’s unclear if that incident and the outage are related.

Among those affected by the outage are small businesses like Pupatella Pizza in Bluemont, which said via social media that its internet ordering and phone lines were down.

Map via Comcast

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