Are Philadelphia residents getting everything they deserve for their monthly investment in Comcast’s cable and Internet service? Are the city’s nonprofit organizations, public agencies and schools getting their fair share?
Organizers of the Media Mobilizing Project don’t think so. Therefore, as the mayor’s office continues to negotiate new cable franchise agreements with the locally based media conglomerate, the MMP is rallying public support for more consumer-friendly terms. On Aug. 10, Jeff Rousset brought his organization’s appeal to the residents of East Torresdale during the monthly meeting of the neighborhood civic association.
“They’re not giving back what they should to the city,” argued Rousset, who is helping to organize MMP’s CAP Comcast campaign.
For the purpose of cable franchising, Philadelphia is divided into four territories. When the city was originally wired, the city awarded franchises to different companies in each territory. A franchise allows the holder to use the public right of way (such as streets and utility poles) to install and operate their infrastructure.
Over time, Comcast acquired all four of the city’s franchises. All four agreements expire this year. During the renewal process, the mayor and company negotiate proposed terms for a new deal that will then be presented to City Council for approval. While the franchise agreements may be limited in scope to construction and maintenance issues and certain television service considerations, MMP contends that the city should leverage its approval process to obtain other considerations from the company.
Comcast has benefitted from “millions” in public subsidies and tax breaks, Rousset claimed, and has grown to be one of the largest cable and Internet providers in the world. MMP wants Comcast to pay more to the city as a percentage of the business it does here and should help the city’s public schools recover from dire financial conditions. MMP wants the company to supply computers to public school students, provide discounted and free high-speed Internet to the poor, increase pay for its own workforce, improve the city’s fiber optic infrastructure and expand its support of diverse community-based media (such as public access TV), among other demands. It wants Comcast to form a community advisory board to “protect consumers throughout the franchise.”
There is a precedent for such negotiations, according to MMP. In New York City, Time Warner maintains high-speed wifi hotspots in public parks. In Pittsburgh, Comcast connected senior centers and recreation centers to the Internet at a discount. In Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Comcast connected all police stations, firehouses, schools and public buildings with free high-speed Internet as part of its 2014 franchise agreement there. In Bellingham, Washington, Comcast gave low-income seniors and disabled a 30-percent discount on basic cable services.
The mayor’s office has not released a projected timeline for the negotiations or when a proposal would be ready for Council’s consideration. In response to Rousset’s presentation, East Torresdale Civic Association Vice President Bill Kennedy proposed that the group vote at its Sept. 14 meeting whether to support the MMP platform.
In unrelated business, the ETCA approved a child daycare provider’s zoning application for 9456 State Road in the Del-Air Shopping Center. The applicant needs a variance to open the daycare in a 2,400-square-feet commercial storefront.
The applicant said that the daycare center would be self-contained and feature window screening to prevent other shopping center patrons from seeing inside. The children would range in age from infant to 12 years. The place would operate from about 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., depending on clients’ needs. The operator hopes to serve 30 to 40 children, although the state will have to certify the maximum capacity. The zoning board hearing will be on Sept. 1. ••