Report: One-Quarter of Philadelphians Unhappy With Comcast

As City Hall begins franchise negotiations with Comcast, it has released a massive report on residents' cable needs and experience.

Mayor Nutter speaks about the franchise agreement with Comcast during a noonhour press conference on Thursday.

Mayor Nutter speaks about the franchise agreement with Comcast during a midday press conference on Thursday.

Twenty-six percent of Philadelphia Comcast subscribers are unhappy with the company’s service, according to a new report (below) released as City Hall begins the public phase of renewing the company’s 15-year franchise agreement with the city.

That overall satisfaction rate was lower than in other markets studied in recent years, according to the report, and while Mayor Michael Nutter tried to spin it positively — as a 74 percent approval rate, great for politicians — he concluded: “That is not satisfactory to me or city government.”

A Comcast spokesman called the report “flawed,” but declined to elaborate.

Nutter unveiled the 571-page report during a noon-hour press conference today at City Hall, a prelude to a series of public meetings on the franchise renewal that begins on April 27th. Separately, City Council announced today it will hold its own hearings on the topic, held jointly by its Committee on Public Property & Public Works and Committee on Technology and Information Services. Precise dates and locations for the hearings were not announced.

The franchise agreement gives Comcast the right to install its own equipment and use city rights-of-way to deliver cable and Internet service to Philadelphia customers, giving it what some critics call “near monopoly” access to Philadelphia consumers. The agreement is renewed every 15 years, making this a moment of keen interest to activists and observers.

But most cities negotiate such agreements with out-of-town corporations; Comcast is a hometown giant — and local political heavyweight — offering a different dynamic here: Politicians used to praising the company must now try to negotiate good terms for the city in the forthcoming agreement.

Comcast, Nutter acknowledged, has been “an integral and important corporate partner in the City of Philadelphia for a long, long time.”

Comcast was allowed advance access to the report, but Nutter said that it was being released publicly with only one change — the redaction of private customer information included in the original version.

Mostly, the review so far has covered technical and customer satisfaction issues. But activists — particularly with the Media Mobilizing Project — are using the moment to try to press Comcast to increase its corporate citizenship in the community by expanding Internet access for the poor and increasing its tax payments to the city in order to better fund the perpetually troubled public schools here.

“We need affordable cable and communications services in the poorest big city in America, real choices and competition in our communications market, protection for Comcast workers and consumers, and a Comcast that pays its fair share in Philadelphia as a condition of any new franchise agreement,” said MMP policy director Hannah Sassaman.

LeAnn Talbot, senior vice president for Comcast’s “freedom region,” was at the press conference.

“We love Philadelphia, we have a great relationship with the city, and we’re proud of our work,” she said. She said the report was “flawed” before being cut off by an aid, who declined to elaborate on the comment for reporters.

The full report is below. For more information about public meetings, as they are scheduled, Philadelphians can check City Hall’s website devoted to the topic.

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