Lexington taking harder line than Louisville on cable franchise - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Lexington taking harder line than Louisville on cable franchise transfer

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Already blessed by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, the transfer of Louisville's cable television franchise from Time Warner Cable to eventual owner Charter Communications is sailing through the Metro Council and expected to be approved at tonight's meeting.

But in Lexington, Mayor Jim Gray and the city's council are taking a much harder line on the same issue.

“We're demanding better customer service for Lexington citizens,” Gray said yesterday in a news release. “The City has worked vigorously to negotiate terms of a new franchise agreement with Time Warner, and so far, the cable company has not been reasonable.”

In Louisville, a resolution to “consent” to Time Warner Cable's passing of the franchise to Comcast and ultimately to Charter is on the consent calendar for tonight's meeting – a batch of non-controversial items that the council approves as a group.

Meanwhile the Lexington council is set to vote tonight on resolutions that would deny the transfer of Time Warner's franchise to Comcast and to Charter, according to Gray's press release.

“It's everything from equipment to customer service to cost,” said Lexington Vice Mayor Linda Gorton, a member of the city's “negotiating team” with Time Warner, in the press release. “Whatever franchise agreement we have in place would ultimately go to Charter, so we want to get the best service we can for our citizens.”

Louisville and Lexington are among the Time Warner Cable markets that will ultimately end up with Charter Communications as part of Comcast's $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable, which is pending regulatory approval. After buying Time Warner Cable, Comcast plans to own the cable systems only briefly before selling them to Charter.

Unlike Lexington, Louisville Metro does not appear to be negotiating a new franchise with Time Warner Cable. But the Louisville franchise dates to 1998 and expires as a matter of law in 2018, Pat Mulvihill, Fischer's previous general counsel, told WDRB News earlier this year.

In late 2012, metro government paid a consultant $65,516 to survey Jefferson County residents on customer service issues as a starting point to working a new, long-term franchise.

Kellie Watson, Fischer's new general counsel and point-person on the cable franchise, did not immediately return a call from WDRB News on Thursday. 

Metro Council member Ken Fleming, a co-sponsor of the resolution, said the mere transfer of the franchise is not an appropriate point of leverage for the council to address issues like customer service and reliability.
"All our job is to do at this point in time is to provide the transfer of the franchise agreement from one entity to another; that's all we're doing," Fleming said Thursday.

Council member Vicki Aubrey Welch, the other co-sponsor, said the council looks to the mayor to be the "negotiator" on the cable franchise and that Fischer's office is "very pleased" with Charter's commitments to the city.

Fischer said in a Sept. 23 news release that metro government had obtained “a solid, progressive commitment” from Charter to improve broadband speeds in Louisville and to keep about 2,600 call center and other jobs here in exchange for the transfer of the franchise.

The resolution the Metro Council is set to approve tonight refers to statements Charter made in two recent letters to the city.

The letters, obtained by WDRB News in an open records request, do not appear to make binding promises but instead discuss Charter's intentions and goals in terms of local jobs, internet service and other areas.

For instance, Charter said: “Currently, we have no plans” to decrease jobs between about 1,500 Time Warner Cable employees and another 1,100 Charter employees at a network operations and call center in Louisville. “It is Charter's expectation that we will maintain our employee base in the Louisville Metro area.”

Charter also said “the eventual rollout of network upgrades” in Louisville would boost its base Internet download speed to 60 megabits per second, and that it has a “goal” of bringing so-called “gigabit” – or 1 gigabit per second – service to apartment building or subdivision in Louisville within two years.

A handful of Metro Council members did question a Charter representative at a committee meeting on Sept. 30.

Welch said it was a "very thorough discussion."

"I feel pretty confident about this," she said.

Fleming told WDRB that issues such as the reliability of the television signal and wait times for cable service appointments will be addressed when Louisville negotiates a new franchise agreement in the next few years.

"That's going to be a pretty big issue when this thing is up for negotiation," he said.

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