What the public had to say about Comcast at last night's City Council hearing - Technical.ly Philly

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Nov. 13, 2015 11:07 am

What the public had to say about Comcast at last night’s City Council hearing

Some 50 people testified about what they like and dislike about the city's largest company. Their grievances generally centered on the same set of issues.
At City Council’s Comcast franchise renewal hearing.

At City Council's Comcast franchise renewal hearing.

(Photo by Andrew Zaleski)

Full disclosure: Comcast was the title sponsor of Philly Tech Week 2015, which was organized by Technical.ly's events team.
To say Alex Wiles was turnt when he finally got his two minutes at the microphone Thursday evening at 7:30 is an understatement.

In providing his personal testimony imploring City Council to bring the hammer down hard on Comcast as the city seeks to renegotiate its next 15-year franchise agreement with the cable, internet and media giant, Wiles — impassioned, flush, focused and frustrated — nearly flubbed one of his main talking points: That Comcast pushes a “false narrative” in which it claims to care about the City of Philadelphia, only to then go out and spend $108,000 on lobbying against the sick paid leave bill in 2013.

“It is time to invest in the future of our city,” said Wiles, a North Philly resident and organizer with the Media Mobilizing Project. “We should be treated as first-class citizens at our own table!”

From about 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Wiles and 50 other Philly residents stepped to the microphone inside City Council to have their two-minute say against — or in favor of — Philadelphia’s largest company.

For roughly five hours before that, they waited as Councilman Bobby Henon grilled Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid and other witnesses as to the relative merits of the proposed Comcast contract. Ebeid has been the city’s lead negotiator as Philadelphia and Comcast have been negotiating Comcast’s franchise renewal agreement for the last six months. It’s City Council that gets the final say, and according to Henon, another hearing about the proposed contract will be held Dec. 1.

Read our explainer on the franchise talks

But Thursday evening, it was all about the public commenters. Most of them came to beef openly about Comcast, and their grievances generally centered on the same set of issues:

  • No more tax abatements — like the one for the Comcast Center that resulted in a tax break of $29 million —for a company that posts quarterly revenues in the billions.
  • More than $600,000 in funding per year for PhillyCAM, the nonprofit in charge of running the city’s public access TV network.
  • A 30 percent discount on Comcast services for Philadelphia’s senior citizens. In the proposed agreement, a discount of at least 10 percent is specifically noted for “low-income” seniors.
  • Helping to fund technology programs and providing free internet at Philadelphia’s public schools. Duran Goodyear, owner of an information solutions company in the city, went so far as to say that it would “be kind of nice if [Comcast] just wrote a check.”

Earlier that afternoon, Comcast representatives were keen to point out that the company has already paid $42 million to the School District in property taxes (a number that will reportedly shoot up to more than $269 million between 2015 and 2029 when Comcast’s property tax abatement expires), and that the proposed contract includes a $500,000 “Digital Alliance Inclusion Fund.”

At least one member of Philadelphia’s tech scene came out to voice his support for the company.

Anthony Maher, CEO and cofounder of the Benjamin’s Desk coworking space, spoke about the support Benjamin’s Desk had received from Comcast, and asked people to “consider the incredible role Comcast has played in developing startups.”

“Comcast is a teammate and champion for entrepreneurs,” Maher said closing out his two minutes.

When he finished, one person applauded.

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