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Bill to renew Comcast's 15-year cable agreement introduced in City Council

Mayor Nutter wants greater cable and internet access for seniors, poor and veterans included in the bill.

JEFF FUSCO / ASSOCIATED PRESS A bill introduced in City Council yesterday would renew Comcast's 15-year cable agreement.
JEFF FUSCO / ASSOCIATED PRESS A bill introduced in City Council yesterday would renew Comcast's 15-year cable agreement.Read moreJeff Fusco/Associated Press

ALTHOUGH COMCAST was tight-lipped, city officials yesterday heralded the introduction of a bill in City Council to authorize the renewal of the company's 15-year cable television franchise agreement with the city.

"It has been a long two-year process, a grueling six months for City Council in briefings to get to this point. So, I'm proud that a bill was introduced today," said Councilman Bobby Henon, the bill's sponsor.

"Today was a successful milestone, but there's at least two or three other milestones coming up," said Adel Ebeid, the city's chief innovation officer.

When asked about specific terms contained in the bill, Jeff Alexander, spokesman for the Philadelphia-based media giant, declined to comment.

In a statement, Alexander said the company looked forward to working with Mayor Nutter's administration and Council to "finalize an agreement that is satisfactory to the city, Comcast and our customers, and enables us to continue investing and innovating in Philadelphia."

In addition to the city receiving a $17.5 million annual franchise fee - 5 percent of Comcast's gross revenues - agreement terms contained in the bill include:

* The imposition of financial penalties on Comcast for failing to meet customer-service performance standards.

* Automatic credits to subscribers for delayed service calls and for outages of more than 24 hours.

* Advanced notice to customers of expiration of special package and promotional pricing.

* $18 million during the term from Comcast to fund city public, educational and governmental access (PEG) channels. That's more than double what the company had been paying.

* 11 PEG channels with quality to match that of commercial channels.

* 20 hours of video on-demand capacity for all PEG channels.

* Comcast must furnish to the city an institutional network to provide data transport to more than 200 city locations. The network would be used for governmental purposes without restriction.

* Comcast will be required to repair all code violations in its cable plant citywide within 18 months, or face financial penalties.

A proposed side letter released by Mayor Nutter's office yesterday contains more terms the city wants in the final franchise agreement.

They include: expansion of Comcast's Internet Essentials program for low-income families with children to include low-income seniors, veterans and individuals with disabilities; discounts of at least 10 percent for low-income seniors on cable service; a $500,000 grant from Comcast to the city's Digital Inclusion Alliance Fund;

A new call center with 200 jobs for city residents; Comcast must share data to assist the city with the audit and verification of the 5 percent franchise fee; and the city, where needed, will use a fiber-based infrastructure or I-NET to provide for wireless access in public areas where government services are provided.

The proposed franchise agreement - which is actually four franchises covering different parts of the city - would replace the agreement that recently expired, though the terms are still in effect.

City officials said they hoped that negotiations with Comcast would be concluded in time for Council to approve the final agreement before the end of the year.

Not included in the bill or side letter is free broadband access for low-income neighborhoods, which Nutter said he wanted back in April.

"Certainly, when Council weighs in, we figured out a way to make sure we preserved their prerogative to visit those details," Ebeid said.

"This isn't a final [agreement]. This is a great start, and I think at the end of the day, Comcast, the city of Philadelphia and City Council are going to have a platinum franchise agreement that is nationally recognized." Henon said.

Councilman Curtis Jones said he'll be looking for the final agreement to include more internet access for seniors, public-housing residents and public schools.

"I want a learning platform provided in every public school, so that these kids that are in underperforming schools have access to a World Wide Web and worldwide opportunities through Comcast," Jones said.

Hannah Sassaman, policy director for the Media Mobilizing Project, was guardedly optimistic after reading the agreement terms.

"There's promising initial language about affordable and reliable access to cable and the internet in America's poorest big city, investment in city communications infrastructure that we desperately need, and a realization that Philadelphians are fed up with poor customer service and high prices," she said.

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