C Spire Fiber withdraws suit against Oxford

By Errol Castens

Daily Journal

OXFORD – After asking Tuesday for an emergency Lafayette County Chancery Court hearing to protect what it called proprietary information, communications provider C Spire Fiber (Telepak Networks Inc.) withdrew its petition against the city of Oxford on Wednesday.

The case began as a response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Gannett Inc. for the proposal in which C Spire stood to make Oxford one of the first Mississippi towns to receive a hyperfast fiber-optic network of Internet connections.

Ultimately, Corinth, Starkville, Batesville, Clinton, Hattiesburg, Horn Lake, McComb, Quitman and Ridgeland won C Spire’s Fiber-to-the-Home initiative that offers 1-gigabit Internet access speed to residents.

C Spire had sought the court’s injunction against giving the information to Gannett but withdrew the request after an identical agreement that was accepted by the city of Ridgeland became public record.

“The original is already in the public domain,” said attorney Sheldon Alston, who represented C Spire.

Until the withdrawal of C Spire’s court petition, the case had promised legal fireworks. Oxford’s response to C Spire’s complaint acknowledged that Mayor Pat Patterson had signed the confidentiality agreement during negotiations but denied he had the authority to do so.

“The city speaks only through its minutes, and its individual officials have no authority to enter into any binding obligation of the city unless its minutes reflect the desire of the governing authorities to enter into that obligation,” its response stated.

Oxford’s attorneys and officials who negotiated with C Spire made numerous changes in terms and wording to the proposed agreement. Probably the most significant were to shorten the proposed franchise term from 25 years to 10 and to reject clauses that would reduce the full 5 percent franchise fee of the system’s gross revenues.

“We considered, red-lined it, said ‘Here are our concerns,’ and sent it back,” City Attorney Pope Mallette said.

errol.castens@journalinc.com