Eight months of negotiations over Comcast's next franchise with the city will stretch a few days longer after a committee of Philadelphia City Council on Tuesday again declined to vote on an agreement, saying it still needs work.
Chief among Council's concerns are whether Comcast Corp. will pay all of its workers at least $15 per hour, provide more career and technical training for young Philadelphians, and eliminate the requirement that only those without Internet service for 90 days are eligible for its low-income discount program.
"I don't like to draw lines in the sand," Councilman William K. Greenlee said at the hearing. "I have to say personally, just for me, if that 90-day turnoff is not eliminated, I have trouble voting for this."
Council is working against the clock. The committee that met Tuesday would have to pass the bill Thursday morning - and will meet at 8:30 a.m. with the goal of doing so - for it to be voted on by the full Council at the body's last session of the year on Dec. 10.
While there would be no immediate impact if that doesn't happen - the terms of the current franchise would remain in place - both parties have sought to sign the franchise before year's end. Otherwise, the negotiations will be handed off to Mayor-elect Jim Kenney's administration and the final franchise vetted by a Council that come January will have five new members.
At stake are four franchise agreements, each covering part of the city, that allow the telecom giant continued access to right-of-way, including space under streets to install wires.
On Tuesday, both a Comcast spokesman and the city's lead negotiator, Adel Ebeid, declined to say what issues had yet to be ironed out. Ebeid, the city's chief information officer, said the parties "continue to make great progress."
"We have 48 hours to get this done," he said. "We have every intention of doing that."
Council, which held a nearly eight-hour hearing on the franchise last month, continued Tuesday to press Comcast on expanding its discount program for low-income Philadelphians, currently open to the families of school-age children. Comcast plans to open the program, Internet Essentials, to low-income seniors. But Council has asked for a larger expansion.
"We've made the investment in terms of tax breaks and subsidies and support for Comcast," Councilwoman Cindy Bass said. "We've given. We've given a lot. And we expect in return that Comcast will be supportive and help the city that it calls home."
Comcast spokesman Jeff Alexander, declining to discuss specifics of the franchise, stressed that more than 70,000 users in the Philadelphia area are enrolled in Internet Essentials and that the program has been enhanced 25 times since it was launched to improve service and expand eligibility.
"We're making great progress in these discussions," Alexander said. "They're ongoing. We feel optimistic. We're looking forward to the next chapter on Thursday."