The Seattle City Council was set to approve a new 10-year franchise agreement with Comcast on Wednesday, but now city officials are pressing pause after seeing what the cable giant did in Philadelphia.
In a letter to Comcast, penned by Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Bruce Harrell, city officials were “disappointed to learn of the franchise agreed to between Comcast and the City of Philadelphia.”
On Thursday, Comcast inked a 15-year franchise deal with Philadelphia city officials that included agreements like offering its Internet Essentials service to more low-income households — not just to families with kids enrolled in reduced-fare lunch programs at school, like the proposed deal in Seattle mandates. It will also offer more discounts to senior citizens.
“The City will hold consideration of Council Bill 118549, which would approve the Comcast Franchise agreement, until Seattle’s agreement is significantly improved,” the letter reads.
The council was set to vote on the proposed deal on Dec. 7 after the council’s technology committee unanimously approved the agreement on Wednesday.
City of Seattle CTO Michael Mattmiller told GeekWire that the current agreement “represent a good value for Seattle in light of increased competition in the cable television and digital video marketplace.” Comcast, which serves nearly 150,000 customers in Seattle, also offered to include free cable service to City government and education facilities, a $50,000 digital equity grant, and 600 free cable modem Internet connections for non-profit organizations.
“This package exceeds the value of franchises negotiated with cities similar to Seattle in recent years,” Mattmiller added.
But the city was “surprised” to learn Thursday evening that Comcast was offering low-income citizens in Philadelphia — where the company is headquartered — even more discounts on Internet.
“Affordability and equity are core values in our Seattle community,” he said.
Added Murray: “Having seen the commitment towards equity and affordability in Philadelphia, we believe the people of Seattle deserve the same level of commitment from Comcast.”
Comcast spokesman Walter Neary told GeekWire that the company is “open to additional dialogue.” Here’s a statement from Comcast:
“Comcast believes that the current agreement as approved by the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee offers numerous benefits to consumers, meeting and exceeding those offered by our competitors in Seattle. We respect the City’s desire to discuss different alternatives and we are open to additional dialogue.”
Neary added that the Seattle market represents the company’s highest usage rate of Internet Essentials customers across the country, with more than 30 percent of eligible families participating.
The proposed franchise agreement would take effect on Jan. 21 of next year and last a decade. Comcast signed its current deal in 2006. The company says the proposed deal is “pro consumer” and will “yield the City revenue in excess of $250 million dollars.”
Comcast competes with Wave Broadband and CenturyLink in Seattle, which both have similar franchise agreements with the city. Last month, the City Council voted against a $5 million municipal broadband pilot program, delivering a major blow to groups that want to see the Internet treated like a public utility akin to electricity.
In June, a city-commissioned study showed that building a municipal gigabit fiber network in Seattle would cost $480 million to $665 million — less than past projections, but still too much for the city to take on without outside financing or a major partnership.
The proposed franchise agreement “has no impact on our broadband plans,” Mattmiller added.
“It would not preclude our ability to be a municipal broadband provider in the future, should it become financially feasible to build such a system,” he said.