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March 24, 2006

No End Insight: Round 2

At the start of every Metro Council meeting, 10 constituents get to speak briefly about whatever they want, whether it’s on the Council agenda or not. Last Thursday in a City Hall decked with poinsettias, five addressed an issue that wasn’t set for discussion at the last meeting of 2005: cable TV.

Why? Insight’s July merger with the Carlyle Group (Google it and weep): Upwards of $650 million changed hands, an ownership shift of more than 60 percent. Such a change, according to section 116.37 of Metro Government’s Code of Ordinances, requires Council approval. But Insight never sought it.

The County Attorney’s office analyzed the merger, and on Nov. 17 presented its findings to the Contracts and Appropriations Committee, which originally requested it. The report cites three city ordinances that Insight violated by forgoing Council approval, which “clearly entitle(s) Metro Government to review and approve the transactions at issue involving Insight Communications.”

The past several weeks have revealed confusion about who has oversight — the Council or the mayor — for enforcing the cable franchise. Allison Martin, communications coordinator for Mayor Abramson, said his administration lacks enforcement authority over the franchise. The Contracts committee declined to take action after the Nov. 17 meeting.

Earlier this week, however, Councilman Jim King’s office confirmed that he — as chair of the Contracts committee — would head a possible Council investigation, although no timeframe was offered. Likewise, his office indicated that several Council members are interested in the franchise, which insiders say is among the weakest in the country for the power it affords city government over the cable provider.

Mark Stanton, general manager for WYCS (“Your Community Station”), is pushing the issue with city government, along with the groups Dads for Education, Louisville Media Reform Group, Kentucky Alliance and the Open Initiative. WYCS is set to move from channel 24 to 759 on Dec. 31. It’s the first programming move Insight has made since the merger.