As Comcast renegotiates its monopoly franchise agreement to provide cable service to the City of Philadelphia, center of the fourth biggest television market in the nation, cable and satellite penetration is at about 80%. Hundreds of thousands of us in our region subscribe to Comcast cable and internet, relying on Comcast for basic news and information. As Comcast’s internet subscriptions rise, Comcast profit 12% in the last reported quarter, to $2.5 billion – but Comcast still fights Philadelphians’ basic needs – leading and paying the most in lobbying costs of any group to kill a campaign to guarantee earned sick days for Philadelphians, and paying little in taxes to the city that gives it so much – a state rate of 3.4%, when the average in Pennsylvania is 9.99%.
Comcast’s outsized political power in Philadelphia impacts us daily – with their senior executives pushing austerity budgets for our schools, and contributing millions to both parties in political contributions. The company’s powerful lobbying machine spends nearly $17 million on an agenda in Washington – an agenda that enlists Congresspeople and Senators to fight our right to communicate without discrimination, or “net neutrality”, while also boosting a merger with Time Warner Cable that would give them control over more of the country’s Internet and cable access – including at least half of the country’s high speed internet access. Comcast and other telecoms also work to keep our communities from bringing in real competition to the Comcast monopoly – they push through legislation against municipal broadband development that would bring faster Internet to cities like Philadelphia.
This control lets Comcast treat its customers with total disrespect. Comcast customers routinely find themselves spending way too much time on hold during customer service calls and waiting for technicians when they need installation or repairs. Customer service injustices, including repeat instances where customers found their billing names changed to disrespectful vulgarities, are widely reported. Meanwhile, loyal customers experience unnecessary increases in bills for service that is slower and more expensive than in many major global cities. The company’s Internet Essentials program, aimed at working-class families, forces customers to jump through exhausting hoops for unreliable Internet that has only reached 9% of eligible families in Philadelphia.
Comcast’s fifteen-year cable franchise with the City of Philadelphia is up for renegotiation in 2015. Comcast contributes millions to Philadelphia’s general fund in return for unfettered access to the rights-of-way that allow it to make many times more in profits in Philadelphia — but they pay no state or city taxes on their massive Philadelphia headquarters.
At a time when the School District is facing a state-pushed deficit of $80 million, CAP Comcast will demand Comcast expand affordable rates, pay its fair share to schools and services, and stop fighting the competition we need that would drive prices down and quality of services up for our communities.