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December 03, 2015

Philadelphia City Council committee passes Comcast cable franchise agreement

The full council will vote on the agreement next week

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Carroll - Comcast Center Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Comcast Center

The Philadelphia City Council Committee on Public Property and Public Works approved Thursday a cable television franchise agreement that will provide Comcast Corp. access to the public rights of way to operate and deliver cable services for another 15 years.

The tentative agreement, which Comcast says provides the city with nearly $500 million in benefits, will be voted on by all members of City Council at its session next Thursday.

If the agreement passes, Comcast will provide 5 percent of its gross revenues from Philadelphia cable service – the maximum amount permitted under federal law. That total currently exceeds $17 million per year. 

Comcast also will provide $21.3 million to fund 11 Public, Educational and Governmental Access (PEG) channels, a total that more than doubles the $8 million provided in the last agreement. That total is $2.3 million more than the figure included in a prior proposal released in October.

"Getting here was not easy and the work is not done, but we are close," Committee Chairman Bobby Henon said in a statement. "Although the agreement is not perfect, the committee worked diligently and tirelessly to ensure that the citizens of Philadelphia are treated fairly in extending Comcast the right to use the streets of Philadelphia to provide cable services. In doing so, we helped shape an agreement that will be a model for cities across the country."

Comcast also announced several additional commitments that extend beyond the agreement, including the hiring of 150 to 200 Philadelphia residents to staff a Virtual Customer Care Agent program to boost customer service. 

Comcast committed to add Philadelphia to its pilot program serving low-income senior citizens who are not connected to the Internet. The company also will offer a 10 percent discount to low-income seniors on limited basic and digital starter cable service.

Comcast further committed to extending its Internet Essentials program to low-income Philadelphia residents who do not have school-aged children by partnering with a local nonprofit.

Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Bilotta called the terms "an unprecedented franchise agreement."

"It brings a lot of benefits," Bilotta said. "It broadens Philadelphians access to broadband through Internet Essentials. It's going to create good-paying jobs and careers. It brings creative solutions that address the city's requests through the process. The commitments that we made reflect our dedication to our hometown."

Comcast also committed to create a five-year amnesty program that waives the requirement that Internet Essentials applicants shall not have been Comcast Internet Service customers in the prior 90 days. The requirement sparked disdain at a public hearing last month. 

The amnesty program is dependent upon the city subsidizing each such Internet Essentials customer at a cost of $20 per customer per month, up to a maximum of $170,000 per year. The subsidies will be deducted from Comcast's quarterly franchise fee payments.