Council’s “Wish List” for Comcast Includes Better Customer Service, More Wi-Fi

BizPhilly obtained two letters from City Council to the cable giant.

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

As Philadelphia negotiates with Comcast on a new 15-year franchise agreement, members of City Council are making their voices heard in two separate letters addressed to the tech giant.

In the letters, which were obtained by BizPhillyBobby Henon, chair of the Committee on Public Property and Public Works has asked Comcast about the feasibility of providing substantially discounted high-speed Internet access in every recreation center, municipal building, park and shelter in the city. It also wants Comcast to notify customers 30 days before special pricing and deals end — so they’re not surprised when their bills increase.

A letter to Kathleen Sullivan, Comcast’s vice president of government affairs stopped short of making demands to Comcast, but did raise plenty of questions. Henon requested that Comcast response to each, in writing, by Sept. 1, 2015. Here’s just a sampling of the questions. See the full list in the attached letter:

  • Can Comcast increase access to low-income families by expanding the Internet Essentials program?
  • Do you see any opportunities to ‘pre-certify’ low income customers for reduced-price services, such as residents in public or publicly subsidized affordable housing developments?

  • To what extent is Comcast able to offer Philadelphia customers a rate freeze or roll back of rates or rate reduction?

  • Following media coverage detailing customer service issues company-wide, please describe how Comcast has adopted strategies to improve customer service and responses to complaints and to ensure transparency in pricing and service terms.

  • To what extent does Comcast notify customers before special pricing or start up deals are ending? Will Comcast commit to notifying customers at least 30 days prior to changes to service costs?

  • Can you discuss the feasibility of providing for free or substantially-discounted high-speed wireless Internet access in every recreation center, health center, homeless shelter, women’s shelter, municipal building, police building, firehouse, prison, public park, KeySpot location and any facility or structure where municipal services are provided to the general public?

  • Please detail how Comcast can continue working together with Philadelphia’s burgeoning technology sector and groups therein on making Philadelphia a leader in digital entrepreneurship and supporting a climate of technological advancement and creativity.

City Council does not have a formal role in the negotiations and it’s unclear which members support the views expressed in the letters.

In the other letter, Henon outlines issues related to “quality, affordability, and accessibility of services.” Addressed to David Cohen, senior executive vice president and Adel Ebeid, chief innovation officer for the City of Philadelphia, the second letter uses stronger language in its attempt to make sure Comcast’s Internet Essentials program is expanded in the city.

It says that Internet access is “more public utility than luxury” compared to 15 years ago when the previous deal was negotiated.

“Far too many Philadelphians still lack access to this option, with broadband penetration in the City of Philadelphia falling stubbornly behind our counterparts in other major cities. The recent announcement of the expansion of Internet Essentials is a positive first step. But Comcast can further open the door of opportunity for thousands of low-income individuals and families, as well as senior citizens and persons with disabilities. Expanding Internet Essentials to seniors on a pilot basis in Florida is a commendable step but why not pilot the same program in your home city? What digital divide issues exist in West Palm Beach that haven’t existed here in Philadelphia over the last two decades?”