Cable system payments made to city must be disclosed
NORTH CAROLINA–Records of payments made by a cable television company to the City of Asheville for the right to install and operate a cable system must be disclosed to The Asheville Citizen-Times, a superior court judge in Asheville ruled in early April.
The court rejected the city’s arguments that the fees paid by the cable company were taxes and that the payment documents were “local tax records” exempt from disclosure under the state Public Records Act.
Payments for use of the public right-of-ways are similar to rent, not taxes, the court held. Nowhere in the 1967 franchise agreement with the city is the compensation paid by the cable company designated as a tax, the court noted.
While renegotiating the cable franchise contract, the city discovered that it had failed to collect over $500,000 in franchise fees from 1992-1995. In order to recoup some of the unpaid fees, the city indicated that it was going to enter into a settlement agreement with the present cable company and its predecessor.
In February, The Citizen-Times asked the city for all records related to the calculation of franchise fees paid to the city. The city refused and the newspaper sued.
Intermedia, the present cable company, became a party to the lawsuit and filed a notice of appeal in mid-April. (Multimedia Publishing of North Carolina v. City of Asheville; Media Counsel: Gary Rowe, Asheville)