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Digital / Internet / Municipal government

Read City Council’s 20 questions for Comcast

In light of the Comcast franchise negotiations, City Council wants to know how Comcast is planning to close the digital divide in Philadelphia.

Comcast HQ. (Photo by Flickr user Ryan Hallock, used under a Creative Commons license)

City Council wants answers from Comcast:
Will Comcast expand its low-cost internet option to senior citizens in Philadelphia? How do Comcast’s prices in Philadelphia compare to those in other cities? How does Comcast plan to support the students of Philadelphia?
Those are just a few of the questions City Council sent to Comcast’s VP of Government Affairs Kathleen Sullivan last week. They asked for answers, in writing, by Sept. 1. Read City Council’s letters to Comcast and the city below.
The effort, led by Councilman Bobby Henon, comes as the city is renegotiating its 15-year franchise agreement, which means that the city is in a place to bargain with Comcast. Council, too, has power in this process: it will vote to approve or deny the contract. The Inquirer reported on Council’s role in the franchise talks earlier this month.
Read our explainer on the franchise talks
With the franchise renewal, Mayor Michael Nutter previously said that he wanted to prioritize digital access across the city. Council, Henon said, is focused on that, too.
“Widening eligibility for low-cost, fast and reliable internet services is likely to be the number one issue for members of this body during our review of the proposed franchise agreement that is coming to City Council in the fall,” Henon wrote to city Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid and Comcast’s Sullivan in an email obtained by Philly. “Comcast has made strides in West Palm Beach, FL and San Francisco, CA. We look forward to an agreement that catapults Philadelphia to the forefront of the national effort to eliminate the digital divide and expand meaningful opportunities for access to every Philadelphia resident.”
When we spoke to Henon on the phone this week, he said, “This is our responsibility as elected officials, to voice our concerns.”
The franchise talks are still ongoing, said the city’s Steve Robertson, who is leading the negotiation on the city side. They plan to have an agreement in front of Council by the end of October, since the last contract expires in early October (Comcast has four separate contracts, covering different parts of the city, and their terms will continue until a new contract is signed, Robertson said).
Council will hold hearings on the issue after that. They might also hold neighborhood hearings, if they see fit, Henon said. (The city held neighborhood hearings in the spring, during which the local tech scene, like members of Indy Hall, made a strong showing.)
In a statement, Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Bilotta said: “We value the strong partnership we have with the City of Philadelphia and its residents and are extremely proud of the world class services we deliver throughout our hometown as we all as the significant benefits that result from our franchise here. We look forward to continue discussions as we work to finalize our franchise agreement that benefits all involved and especially the city we call home.”
When asked if Comcast would respond to Council’s letter, Comcast would only say it was “in continuous discussions with the city.”
Reading the letter to Comcast, it’s not hard to see the parallels with City Council’s annual public budget hearings, where they grill each department on their operations and spending.
See the letters below.
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Companies: Philadelphia City Council / Comcast
People: Bobby Henon

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