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December 10, 2015

Philadelphia City Council passes Comcast cable franchise agreement

The agreement boosts PEG funding by $13.3 million

Cable Comcast
Carroll - Comcast Center Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Comcast Center

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

Under the agreement, 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.

Mayor Michael Nutter hailed the deal as an enhancement to the previous agreement.

"When all is said and done, Comcast, one of our city’s leading corporate citizens, is helping us close the digital divide by providing affordable internet service to vulnerable populations and it demonstrates why we are fortunate to have this homegrown company,” Nutter said in a statement.

Comcast, which agreed to several other commitments extending beyond the scope of the franchise agreement, said the city will gain nearly $500 million in benefits.

The additional commitments include 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 Senior Executive Vice President David L. Cohen said the agreement honors company's "legacy of civic responsibility and pride."

"We are grateful for the partnership and support of Mayor Nutter and his administration, and of so many members of City Council, who have been instrumental in helping us reach this significant agreement for the people of Philadelphia,” Cohen said in a statement.

Comcast also committed to 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.

City Councilman Bobby Henon, who sponsored the bill, said the agreement ensures Philadelphia residents receive a fair return for use of the city's rights of way.

"Philadelphia gave birth to the protection of individual's rights and we hope with this franchise to start a new revolution in which affordable access to the Internet is added to the rights we enjoy as citizens,” Henon said in a statement.