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April 09, 2015

Report: 26 percent of Comcast cable subscribers dissatisfied

Cable giant executive vows to reveal 'flaws' in report

Cable Comcast
Carroll - Comcast Center Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Comcast Center

A cable franchise needs assessment report conducted by a consultant found 26 percent of Comcast cable subscribers in Philadelphia are dissatisfied with their overall service.

The 571-page report, released Thursday by Mayor Michael Nutter, includes a set of recommendations to improve cable service as the city negotiates a new franchise agreement with Comcast. 

The 15-year agreement, which expires later this year, gives Comcast the authority to use public rights of way to operate and deliver cable services.

Nutter said the city plans to pursue the recommendations outlined in the report.

“We want the very best for our citizens and our customers, now, and for many, many years to come in the future,” Nutter said. “We’re going to approach these negotiations with all of that in mind.”

The recommendations include upgrading all 12 public, education and government (PEG) access channels to high definition, strengthening customer service standards, adding a remediation program to address code compliance issues and installing a fiber-based infrastructure for city government telecommunications.

Nutter also announced the city's Cable Franchise Authority will expand to include monitoring, oversight and audit responsibilities. The city will hire at least four people with technical, telecommunications, accounting and cable franchise expertise.

The report, authored by CBG Communications of Paoli, Chester County, includes statistical analysis from a random-sample, telephone survey of 800 Philadelphians. The consultants also conducted online and written surveys, gathering more than 3,200 responses.

Philadelphia cable satisfaction levels are 1-11 percent lower than satisfaction levels in other Comcast markets where similar telephone surveys were conducted within the last six years, the report found.

“We believe there are flaws in the report and we will prove that to the city,” Comcast Senior Vice President LeAnn Talbot told reporters after the press conference. 

Talbot did not elaborate on her criticism. Instead, a Comcast spokesman cut off an interview with reporters seeking specifics. Talbot later posted a blog response on Comcast's website.

Comcast believes “many of the findings are inaccurate, overstated, or misleading, and we will deliver comprehensive proof of those facts to the city,” Talbot wrote. “Importantly, the consultant never contacted Comcast to solicit objective, verifiable data, resulting in conclusions that are not based on easily available and decisive data, and that are simply untrue.”

The report claimed 15 percent of respondents received a busy signal when calling customer service and that another 61 percent did not have their calls answered within 30 seconds. 

Talbot wrote that Comcast's data, which is reported to the Federal Communications Commission, revealed less than 0.5 percent of Philadelphians received busy signals and that more than 90 percent of calls were answered within 30 seconds.

A Comcast statement distributed to reporters claimed "back-and-forth" exchanges are “not uncommon” during franchise renewal negotiations. Comcast has more than 6,400 franchise agreement across the country.

“Most large municipalities hire consultants to prepare ‘ascertainment reports’ to support their negotiations during renewal,” the statement said. “It is a routine tactic for consultants to present ‘gold plated’ demands in order to extract more out of negotiations.”

The city’s franchise agreement consists of four separate agreements that split the city into four segments. The first of those agreements expires Aug. 12. The last expires Oct. 7.

Nutter acknowledged the city has demands extending beyond the recommendations outlined in the report, but declined to discuss the city’s negotiating strategy.

“I’m not going to go point-by-point in a public forum,” Nutter said. “We will negotiate hard. We know how to negotiate hard. … We are very, very focused when we are in that situation.”

The cable franchise agreement does not provide the city any opportunities for new revenue. Nutter said the city receives a franchise fee that can be charged to cable customers, but the fee is capped at 5 percent. 

The Media Mobilizing Project, a grassroots organization that seeking to end poverty through media projects, called on the city to ensure Comcast “pays its fair share” as the city seeks to improve its education system.

“Comcast is a huge supporter of any number of different initiatives here in the city,” Nutter said. “I don’t know that we’ve asked any corporation in the city to specifically fund a teacher. I think the main responsibility for funding public education is actually the responsibility of the citizens and the government.”