Media Mobilizing Project Statement on Committee Passage of Historic Comcast Franchise Agreement

PHILADELPHIA – Today, City Council’s Public Property Committee, chaired by Councilman Bobby Henon and with the support of all committee members, passed a 15-year Comcast communications franchise with far reaching public benefits for low-income communities, and for all Comcast customers, now and into the future. The franchise then received first reading before the full Council.

This franchise, if enacted by the full City Council next Thursday December 10, as expected, will produce more cable and internet discounts, expansions of affordable internet and free internet access, and protections for cable and internet consumers and workers than almost any cable franchise nationwide.

In particular, side letters accompanying this franchise, and negotiated by City Council, the City of Philadelphia and Comcast, offer an historic and unprecedented expansion of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program to low income communities across Philadelphia.  These side letters also include an expansion of Career and Technology Education at the Philadelphia Public Schools, funded by Comcast, and a guarantee that all Comcast workers, contractors, and subcontractors will earn at least a living wage and for work paid for by the City, a higher prevailing wage.

The statement below can be attributed to Hannah Sassaman, Policy Director at Media Mobilizing Project, which coordinates the Corporate Accountability Project (CAP) Comcast campaign.

The Nutter Administration, and City Council members and staff, led by Councilman Henon and his team, are fighting hard for Philadelphia’s people – to expand affordable internet to all communities here in the poorest big city in America, to protect Comcast consumers, to ensure a dignified life for Comcast workers, whether they are on staff or contracting or subcontracting with Comcast, and to ensure Comcast pays its fair share to our struggling Philadelphia public schools.

Comcast claimed throughout this franchise process that the concerns of Philadelphians about their internet service were irrelevant to this 15-year franchise deal – that the law permitted the City and Council to negotiate only on the narrow terms of cable service here in Comcast’s hometown.  But thousands of Philadelphians told their Mayor, City Council, and their hometown Fortune 50 company, Comcast, that the right to communicate is a human right.

AFFORDABLE INTERNET: What Philadelphia has secured today, if it passes on Dec. 10th, is especially historic and precedent setting for the rest of the country when it comes to internet access.  For example:

  • For the first time, any low-income senior in Philadelphia who needs discount access to the internet can get it at a far more affordable rate through the Internet Essentials discount program, previously limited only to families with children.
  • All Philadelphians will be able to access free wireless internet when securing City services and resources at hundreds of City locations. 
  • Low-income seniors with basic Comcast plans and Digital Starter will get new 10% discounts.
  • Potentially thousands of other low-income community members will be able to access Internet Essentials at home, whether or not they have school-aged children or are seniors. 
  • Existing Comcast Internet customers need not turn off their Comcast internet for 90 days to qualify for the Internet Essentials program.  This has been a major barrier to poor families qualifiying for Internet Essentials users offline .

These are historic and welcome expansions of affordable internet, and one that every Philadelphian can cheer.  That said, we live in a city with the third worst broadband penetration of any big city in the US.  These are vital gains that we must build on in 2016 and beyond.  CAP Comcast congratulates the Nutter Administration and City Council for getting this far.  We hope for passage of this franchise – and if passed, we look forward to working closely with the City and Council next year to oversee the implementation of these new programs, and to expand affordable internet access to every person in Philadelphia. 

#TECHED for #PHLED: We are pleased that, if enacted, this franchise will secure resources from Comcast in support of technology education in our public schools, promising to create co-op jobs for second semester seniors, and employment opportunities for 50-100 Philadelphia public school graduates a year.  We especially congratulate Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez and her staff for their continued and unrelenting focus on Comcast’s need to pay its fair share to our public schools.  We congratulate the teachers, families, and students who have spoken and continue to speak loudly and passionately that Comcast should pay its fair share to our schools – and we celebrate and treasure the legislators who heard them and refuse to stop fighting for them. 

Comcast earned $8 billion in profit last year, and took in at least $500 million in revenue in Philly alone.  Comcast pays drastically abated property taxes on its headquarters and will pay a similar rate on its new buildings – while paying only 3.4% in state income tax in a state where 9.99% is the average.  Comcast can afford to pay far more to our struggling public schools.  We will continue to work in City Hall and across the state to hold big companies accountable to pay their fair share to public education in a state without a fair funding formula for all our youth.

WORKERS’ RIGHTS: We also congratulate the City and City Council for securing, if enacted, basic living and prevailing wage protections for Comcast employees, contractors, and subcontractors – as well as guarantees for minority and women employment at one of our city’s largest employers.  Whether you are providing Comcast customer service, selling Comcast subscriptions, or installing and maintaining cable lines in streets or homes, you deserve to make a family-sustaining wage that allows you to live with dignity.  That said, far too few Comcast workers in Philadelphia enjoy the protections of collective bargaining – and in other communities nationwide, Comcast committed, as part of the cable franchise, to protect their right to form their union without interference.  We will continue to push for all workers here in Philadelphia to earn at least $15/hour and to have the right to form their union and bargain for dignity in peace.

PUBLIC ACCESS TELEVISION: We are proud to be members of PhillyCAM, and to stand with the hundreds of incredible community programmers and thousands of viewers who treasure the stories told on this award winning community television station.  PhillyCAM did not receive the full funding it needs from Comcast in this franchise.  If this franchise passes, we will continue to support PhillyCAM in its advocacy to ensure its financial needs are met. 

Mayor Nutter and his team at the Office of Innovation and Technology, and Councilman Bobby Henon, the Public Property Committee, and all of Council and their staff should feel proud today – if this franchise passes, Philadelphia has secured the strongest communications franchise in the country in so many ways.  But our largest congratulations go to the everyday people who believe that our voices collectively are more powerful than even the largest of corporations.  Together, we have transformed our City’s relationship with Comcast, have won precious and measurable resources for our city’s schools, workers, and homes, and have permanently deepened our communities’ understanding that access to communications is not a luxury, but a basic and undeniable human right.

CAP Comcast is a campaign focused on helping Philadelphia communities work with the City of Philadelphia to secure a fair new cable franchise with Comcast. Visit the campaign at http://www.capcomcast.org. Media Mobilizing Project collaborates with poor and working people to tell the untold stories that help end poverty. To learn more about Media Mobilizing Project, visit http://www.mediamobilizing.org or email info@mediamobilizing.org