Phila. surveying residents before Comcast franchise renegotiations

Posted: January 29, 2014

The City of Philadelphia is asking residents to complete surveys on Comcast Corp.'s cable-TV services as it prepares to renegotiate a multiyear franchise agreement with the telecommunications giant.

Printed copies of the survey are available in library branches and city-run "Keyspots," a network of public computing centers.

Officials believe most people will complete them online at www.phila.gov/cablefranchises.

The city informed residents of the survey through Twitter and Facebook, said Steven Robertson, chief of staff for the Office of Innovation and Technology, which is handling the franchise negotiations.

Comcast's 15-year agreement for Philadelphia expires in mid- to late-2015. All cable-TV providers nationwide must negotiate franchise agreements with towns and cities. In return for the right to run cable-TV wires, companies pay municipal governments a 5 percent fee of cable-TV revenues.

The other big telecom company with a cable-TV franchise agreement in Philadelphia is Verizon Communications Inc., which offers FiOS TV and Internet. Verizon signed a 15-year agreement with Philadelphia in early 2009.

Philadelphia has said it will hold hearings - possibly three - in different neighborhoods over the Comcast franchise renewal, but "we do not have anything set yet," Robertson said.

Consultant CBG Communications Inc., of Paoli, has been retained to help survey city residents and evaluate franchise agreements in other cities, Robertson said.

CBG conducted an 800-person phone survey in Philadelphia in the fall of 2013, and the current needs survey is based on the question in the phone survey. Tom Robinson, CBG Communications president, said Monday the phone survey was "statistically valid" with survey-takers polling 400 Comcast subscribers and 400 nonsubscribers.

The Comcast renegotiation will deal partly with government-mandated public, education and government channels.

The survey asks whether local programming should be available in high-definition or through On Demand. The survey noted that cable-TV subscribers pay about $5 a month for ESPN and asks how much, if anything, city residents would be willing to pay in their cable bill to help support local programming.

Hannah Sassaman, the policy director at the Media Mobilizing Project, a nonprofit community organization that focuses on economic and media issues, said the new franchise agreement is a "unique opportunity for everyone in Philadelphia to ask for and secure the communication access they need to thrive in this city."

Sassaman said that Comcast has "outsize political influence" in Philadelphia, and the franchise renegotiation "needs to be an open process."


bfernandez@phillynews.com

215-854-5897

@bobfernandez1

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