Campaigning for more benefits from Comcast ahead of next agreement
Later this year, Philadelphia’s City Council will begin a series of hearings on the city’s next 15-year franchise agreement with Comcast. The agreement, which expires this year, gives the company access to public streets and telephone poles, and in return, Comcast pays the city a “franchise fee” equal to 5 percent of its revenue from cable subscriptions.
For the last few months, there’s been an increasingly well-publicized campaign to negotiate an expanded set of public benefits from the company in exchange for access to city infrastructure. The campaign is called CAP Comcast — the CAP stands for “Corporate Accountability Project” — and it carries a growing list of possible demands the city could make in its upcoming franchise negotiations.
Of course, the city isn’t likely to deny Comcast access to the needed infrastructure altogether. It’s also not entirely clear how impactful Comcast’s use of streets and telephone poles really is. How much would the company be willing to give back in return for that access? And what leverage does the city really have in negotiating for more benefits?
For their part, Comcast officials weren’t willing to discuss how they would approach negotiating the next franchise agreement. In a blog post, two Comcast executives wrote that they expect the negotiations with Philadelphia to be more public than negotiations elsewhere because the company is based here, but they emphasized that the company is proud of its current investment in the city.
To Hannah Sassaman, an organizer of the CAP Comcast campaign and policy director for the Media Mobilizing Project, this is a rare opportunity to publicly discuss what the city’s largest private company should provide — not just as an exchange for access to public infrastructure, but as an accountable “corporate citizen.”
“This is the only time in the next 15 years that we actually get a public discussion,” Sassaman said recently. “… We have to use what political opportunities and negotiating opportunities we have.”
Last week, Mayor Nutter released a report showing that more than a quarter of Comcast customers were unsatisfied with the service. Nutter has also said he’d help negotiate for more improvements. NewsWorks has a good rundown of that report’s findings; on Billy Penn, a former Comcast executive says that the report is “politics as usual” and that any expanded public benefits would simply add to the cost of Internet service for Comcast customers.
The CAP Comcast campaign, of course, is demanding that any increase in public benefits be paid for out of the company’s impressive profit margin, rather than passed on to customers through the cable bills. Below are a few of the campaign’s biggest demands.