This afternoon the City Council discussed the Comcast franchise agreement at great length but ultimately decided to hold the legislation until next Monday.
Council member Harrell, whose committee passed the agreement on before it became known that Philadelphia had negotiated a better deal, explained that he and the mayor had discussed the situation with Comcast executives last week and extracted several concessions. In a letter to the city, Comcast agreed to additional terms:
- Making the low-cost Internet Essentials program available to low-income seniors at $9.99 per month;
- Expanding their grant program from a one-time $50,000 effort to $100,000 per year for five years;
- Comcast will partner with the city to make laptops available to at-risk youth to access the Internet;
- Comcast will make 600 free cable modems available to local nonprofits.
Council member Harrell emphasized that the Council can’t control what Comcast or other providers charge, though many citizens have asked the Council to try.
These four benefits are separate from the franchise agreement so if Comcast didn’t follow through the city would not have legal recourse using the processes laid out in the franchise agreement. That’s the downside of having them in a separate letter and not in the franchise agreement itself. The city’s staff claimed to have a good history of working with Comcast and feels that the risk of Comcast not-following through is low, but Council member Licata raised the concern that the items that benefit low-income seniors and at-risk youth seem sort of squishy, with no true metrics to know whether Comcast is living up to our expectations. Council President Burgess and Council member Gonzalez both expressed concern that approving a franchise agreement without these extra benefits seems like a poor business practice. In the end Harrell agreed (with unanimous support of the Council) to hold the legislation for a week in order to address the concerns.
Hopefully by next Monday they will have an updated agreement with final language for the Council to approve. The clock is ticking; the current Comcast franchise agreement is about to expire.