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Athens, Charter settle out of court

By Bayne Hughes 340-2432

The city of Athens and Charter Communications reached an out-of-court settlement Monday in their 7-year-old dispute.

The two have been at odds since Charter bought Falcon Cable in 1999. The city filed a lawsuit in 2002, accusing the company of knowingly violating safety codes and standards, particularly in the company's use of Athens Utilities' electric poles, and withholding financial information.

Charter countersued, but, in July 2005, a federal judge rejected most of the company's claims of discrimination, civil rights violations, breach of contract and breach of franchise agreement.

City Attorney Shane Black said the city and Charter agreed to:

  • Allow Charter to correct any violations.

  • Set up a way for the city to ensure that Charter corrects all problems.

  • Allow the city and Charter to work together to make sure the electric poles are in good shape.

  • Dismissal of a federal lawsuit.

  • Repeal of an old wire-line telecommunications system ordinance within 30 days of the agreement. (Black said the city was not enforcing the ordinance.)

  • A $15 increase in the pole attachment fee Charter pays the city.

  • Athens Electric Department will hire Gary McQuown as project manager to supervise all aspects of compliance.

    Black and Lynne Coker, director of government relations for Charter, said the settlement does not include any financial penalties or reimbursements, other than the attachment fee increase.

    City officials and Coker said they were pleased with the agreement. City Councilman Ronnie Marks called the settlement a "step forward."

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