The Philadelphia City Council is asking Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) to provide free Wi-Fi in public spaces like parks, aid local schools in becoming more "digitally literate," and help bolster the local tech sector as the MSO negotiates a new charter agreement with the city.
The Philadelphia Inquirer obtained two letters being sent to Comcast on behalf of the city council. The letters serve as a "wish list" of deeds the council would like to see promised by Comcast once the company is finished hammering out a new 15-year franchise agreement with city negotiators.
"It would be great to send a message ... that Comcast's hometown is a platinum example of bridging the digital divide," said Councilman Bobby Henon, whose office drafted the letters, to the Inquirer. "We want them to be a great partner, not a good partner."
The letters, Henon said, would be sent to Philadelphia-based Comcast this week.
"We look forward to continued discussions as we work to finalize a franchise agreement that benefits all involved and, especially, the city we call home," Comcast spokesman Jeff Alexander said in a response.
Under federal law, city negotiators can demand no more than 5 percent of the cable revenue Comcast recoups in the region in exchange for letting the cable company route its wires though its streets. City officials said the MSO's existing charter agreement yielded Philadelphia about $17.5 million in 2014.
Comcast's current agreement with the city expires in four stages, starting Wednesday, with the final stage sunsetting in October. However, the city and Comcast will continue operating under the old terms until a new agreement is hashed out.
No deal can be finalized without the city's approval vote.
The city's requests are notable considering Comcast's recent efforts to expand its public Wi-Fi hotspot network and its work to provide inexpensive Internet services to students. Comcast recently announced it now counts 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots in its network, though those access points are typically only available to Comcast subscribers. And Comcast recently announced it offers its low-cost "Internet Essentials" service in nearly 48,000 schools and more than 5,000 school districts, in 39 states and the District of Columbia.
The city council's wish list follows a damning 571-page report commissioned by the city and published in April. Consulting firm CBG found that 26 percent of Comcast subscribers are dissatisfied with their service and that satisfaction levels ranged from 1 to 11 percent lower than Comcast franchise areas in other selected markets.
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