The morning begins with a prayer. A prayer for the city.
Everyone in City Council chambers stands. Some clasp their hands together, some turn their eyes downward.
Among the packed room is the cast of characters who have taken part in the last month of City Council hearings on the city’s 15-year Comcast franchise deal. There’s the fleet of Comcast execs and PR people on the left side of the room and activists from Media Mobilizing Project and PhillyCAM, posters in tow, on the right side. It’s where both parties always sat during the hearings. Though the two parties were often at odds during the process, it feels almost poetic that they’re sharing a prayer on this unseasonably warm December morning.
Bishop James Darrell Robinson of Yesha Ministries takes the podium and makes an appeal for unity.
“Lord, we pray, God, that you might help us to work together,” he says. “God, give us the unity that Philadelphia needs.”
Two hours later, after a seemingly interminable slate of Council business, City Council unanimously passes the city’s 15-year Comcast franchise agreement.
The vote signaled the end to nearly a year of negotiations between the city and Comcast over its contract. The contract, which drastically expands Comcast’s low-cost broadband program, is being championed as a win by all parties involved. (Though public-access nonprofit PhillyCAM appears to be the primary loser, executive director Gretjen Clausing said the deal was a “very positive outcome for the city.”)
“Philadelphia is our home — and we are delighted with the franchise agreement that has been unanimously approved by City Council, as well as our confirmation of an extraordinary set of voluntary commitments that Comcast has made that will benefit hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians today and for many years to come,” David L. Cohen, Comcast’s senior executive vice president, said in a statement. “This overall arrangement honors the legacy of civic responsibility and pride that Comcast has always brought to Philadelphia, and underscores our passion to help close the digital divide for Philadelphians through our nationally acclaimed Internet Essentials program.”
The Media Mobilizing Project’s Hannah Sassaman called the deal “the strongest communications franchise in the country in so many ways.”
Its impact is already being felt across the country: the City of Seattle delayed a vote on its franchise with Comcast upon seeing the cushy terms of Philadelphia’s agreement.
There was one objection raised right before the City Council vote: Councilwoman Cindy Bass said she didn’t understand why the City of Philadelphia had to subsidize the expansion of Comcast’s low-cost Internet Essentials program.
“There’s still room for them to make this right,” she said, adding that she would vote in favor of the bill but “with reservations.”
She also asked that Comcast make an effort to hire more senior staffers of color.
Though the negotiation process is over, there are still a number of questions, like how many Philadelphians will the Internet Essentials expansion actually affect? Will PhillyCAM be able to secure more funding? And, after this big lift, will Chief Innovation Officer (and lead city negotiator) Adel Ebeid remain in City Hall as Mayor-elect Jim Kenney takes over?
But that’s for another story. After the vote, City Council kept moving right along, while right outside Council chambers, scores of people lined up for fried chicken, candied yams and collard greens while listening to a small band play the oldies. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s annual party.
Happy holidays indeed.