Nashville, Tenn. -- InterMedia Partners has withdrawn its
appeal of a state court ruling ordering the city of Asheville, N.C., to produce
franchise-fee-payment records for the local newspaper.
"We want a franchise renewal, and this is only an
ancillary issue," said Bruce Stewart, InterMedia's director of communications
and general counsel.
The cable operator got dragged into a dispute between the
city and the local daily paper, the Asheville Citizen Times.
As part of its coverage of the ongoing refranchising talks
between the city and the operator, the newspaper asked for franchise-fee records held by
On the advice of the city attorney, Bob Oast, the City
Council voted to withhold the records. Oast said he believes that InterMedia's
documents were protected by a state law requiring privacy for tax records.
Therefore, the council members would commit a misdemeanor
if they released them, he added.
But the newspaper's executive editor disagreed and
sued Asheville in superior court there. The judge agreed with the paper, asserting that
the franchise-fee documents are public records.
InterMedia was not a defendant in the case, but it filed as
an intervenor, so it had authority to appeal. But when the company realized that it would
not be supported by the city in the case, and that franchise talks would stall, InterMedia
executives decided not to fight the suit.
Stewart said the company has the support of the North
Carolina Telecommunications Association to pursue the issue in order to get a solid legal
definition of the payments.
Recent federal rulings called the fees rent, but the
Asheville order muddied that definition. However, InterMedia wants to focus on closing the
Stewart noted that most of the information sought by the
paper has already been made public in an independent auditor's report, so
there's "nothing inflammatory" to be unveiled.