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JCPS Superintendent Acknowledges Concerns Over Recent Central Office Hire

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens has addressed the controversy surrounding her new chief of diversity, community relations and communications Wednesday and says she’s accountable for her recent hires.

Jamilah Fraser formerly held a communications position with the School District of Philadelphia, but stepped down after serving under Superintendent Arlene Ackerman during a district-wide cheating scandal.

Ackerman reportedly butt heads with teachers unions and city leaders and was leading the district when the cheating scandal broke out, but also while standardized scores were on the rise. Fraser was the fourth and last communications director under Ackerman and she’ll now start in JCPS on March 12.

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Local News

Future of Insight Franchise Agreement Uncertain as Time Warner Acquisition Looms

There are still a number of details to work out in Time Warner Cable’s pending acquisition of Insight Communications.

The sale was announced last week and a Time Warner spokesman says it’s too early to discuss possible changes to service. Many services can be regulated through franchise agreements, which cable operators sign with governments. Louisville’s agreement with Insight has lapsed, and the city has spent the last seven months negotiating a new deal.

“I am a little bit surprised that we’re at this stage of the deal and we don’t have a franchise agreement yet,” says Metro Councilman Kevin Kramer. “I am hopeful that we can get the franchise agreement taken care of so that when Time Warner actually purchases Insight, we’ll have a franchise agreement in place that at least protects the city.”

Time Warner won’t say whether it would seek to renew the current agreement or ink a new deal, but Kramer says the city should try to sign an agreement with Insight before the company is sold.

“Time Warner is a very large company with fairly vast resources,” he says. “Many of the folks who are engaged with the day to day work of Insight are local—they live here in Louisville. So I think there’s a different level of understanding of the services they provide and the agreement they would reach with the city.”

Kramer sits on the National League of Cities’ Information Technology Steering Committee. The panel advocates franchise agreements that ensure local channels are part of basic cable packages. The County Attorney’s office, which is leading the talks with Insight, says negotiations will likely continue, though that hasn’t yet been determined.

A spokesman for the mayor’s office says Time Warner will have to “assume the contractual obligations that Insight currently has with the city.”

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Local News

As Power Restoration Winds Down, Insight Monitors Cable Connections

Electricity has been restored for most Louisville residents, but several people found that when their lights came on, their Internet connections and cable television did not.

Cable often follows the same path as power lines, and Louisville Gas and Electric has priority access to damaged connections and poles.

“Typically, we are there on site when they finish working, particularly if it’s one of our core systems or a piece of our fiber network, and again, we didn’t have any of our fiber network go down,” says Insight Communications spokesman Jason Keller.

The wind storm of 2008 and ice storm of 2009 did more damage to the network than this weekend’s storm, so Keller says reconnecting customers was either fast or not necessary. He adds that the company knows when service isn’t working at an address, but there is no way for customers to track outages the way they can with LG&E.

“We have discussed that, previously, but we haven’t made any plans of doing something like that. But if anything like that changes, we’ll be certain to alert our customers to that,” he says.

Keller says most of the service outages reported in the last few days have been related to power outages. As of Tuesday afternoon, about 1,000 Insight customers were disconnected.

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Local News

Time Warner to Buy Insight for $3 Billion

Cable giant Time Warner, Inc. will buy Insight Communications for $3 billion.

Insight put itself up for auction earlier this year and attracted a host of large bidders. The bids at that time, however, were lower than Insight had reportedly sought, according to sources close to the deal. Company officials did not comment on the potential sale at the time.

Time Warner is the nation’s second-largest cable provider, and the purchase will give the company inroads in the midwestern market. Insight is the nation’s ninth-largest provider.

Businessweek reports that Time Warner “will begin a review of Insight’s employees to retain the best performers…Call-center operators and technicians will likely not be affected because the volume of work won’t change with the acquisition.”

The deal may generate annual cost savings of $100 million within two years, Time Warner Cable said in a statement today.

The acquisition is Time Warner Cable’s biggest since its spinoff from Time Warner Inc. in 2009 and may help the cable operator compensate for declining pay-TV demand. A wider footprint lets Chief Executive Officer Glenn Britt reach more customers while eliminating duplications in programming and corporate costs including staff and infrastructure.

Calls to Insight were not immediately returned.

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Local News Politics

Committee Approves Insight Agreement Extension

A Louisville Metro Council committee Wednesday unanimously approved the extension of the city’s contract with Insight Cable.

Technically called a franchise agreement, the contract regulates Insight’s operations in ways not already controlled by the state or federal government. For instance, the document cannot control how much Insight charges customers or how much it must pay to use existing utility poles, but it can control who pays to put cables on those poles.

Insight attorney Larry Zielke says the franchise agreement mandates that the costs to extend cable to less populous areas must be shared by Insight and homeowners, though the city often helps residents pay such costs.

“There may be a group of a subdivision that comes to their Metro Council member and says ‘We want to get Insight into our neighborhood because they provide such good service.’ The Metro Council member has discretionary funds to have that happen,” he says.

In the past, council members have provided money to help extend lines in their districts. Zielke says if that happens, the city usually retains control of the infrastructure.

“If it’s a private easement, the private easement might specify that it only has one use—let’s say for multi-channel video programming,” he says. “If it’s a public easement, if the city buys an easement for example, then any utility can use it.”

Just four members of the public addressed the committee on Insight’s agreement and three of the speakers work for the cable provider. But the council members provided harsher comments as they questioned the company’s rates and programming options. When asked afterward if the agreement gives Insight a monopoly over cable in the city, Zielke said no; other cable providers may operate under separate franchise agreements. That may not be likely, though, since companies must pay to put their cable lines on existing utility poles.

“There are pole attachment agreements that we have with the utilities, and indeed the Kentucky Public Service Commission regulates how much pole attachment charge either LG&E or AT&T can charge us,” he says.

The agreement also requires Insight to include Metro TV on the basic cable package. The agreement will go before the full council next week for a final vote. The agreement lasts for 15 years.