City, Comcast finally reach a deal

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A Comcast sign is seen at one of their centers on Feb. 13, 2014, in Pompano Beach, Florida.

After eight months of negotiations, Comcast Corp. and the City of Philadelphia agreed Thursday to the terms of a new 15-year franchise agreement.

Both sides favorably described the deal, which includes added discounts for low-income Philadelphians, commitments to paying workers a living wage, and installation of a new network in more than 200 city buildings. Comcast officials called it the best in the nation.

With the ink barely dry, City Council's public property committee signed off late Thursday, sending the agreement for a vote of the full body next week.

"It has some strong commitments from Comcast as well as some strong financial liability if those commitments are not met," Adel Ebeid, the city's lead negotiator, told Council. "This truly represents the best deal that the City of Philadelphia can get at this time."

At stake are four franchises that allow the company continued ability to install wires across the city in exchange for 5 percent of Comcast's cable-TV revenue here. That revenue came to $17.5 million last year.

The negotiations were far-reaching. Chief among Council's concerns was Comcast's Internet Essentials discount program, open to low-income families with school-age children.

Under the deal, Comcast would expand that program to seniors. The company said it would also provide up to $2.7 million over the next five years to allow other low-income Philadelphians to enroll. The money would help about 1,000 Philadelphians in the first year, Ebeid said.

Council also asked Comcast to drop the stipulation that only those without Internet service for 90 days qualify for the program. Instead, the city said it would give $170,000 per year to provide discounted Internet service to those excluded by the 90-day rule. The money, estimated to cover about 700 users, would come from the franchise fee Comcast pays to the city, officials said.

Comcast also agreed to:

Give $20 million over 15 years to public, government, and educational access channels. That is $2 million more than what Comcast offered last month, but still far less than what Council and advocates first sought.

Install a new high-speed network at more than 200 city locations, a build-out valued at more than $9 million. Comcast would pay the city's set living wage, $12 an hour, on all work associated with the project.

Work with the School District's career and technical education office to make sure the curriculum matches Comcast's hiring needs.

Launch any future expansions of Internet Essentials in Philadelphia before any other city.

"We're going to hold you accountable here," Councilman Bobby Henon, who heads the public property committee, told Comcast executives after the commitments were outlined Thursday.

"Everybody knows where to find us," replied Mark Reilly, head of government relations for Comcast's northeast division.

With time winding down, Council also took other actions:

Four Council members began transferring properties to the Philadelphia Land Bank, bringing the slow-to-start agency, meant to streamline development of vacant land, closer to reality. In total, 833 parcels would be transferred to the Land Bank.

The Appropriations Committee advanced a bill to transfer $17 million to pay for the papal visit. The city expects to be reimbursed for $9 million - to cover papal events and related security - by the World Meeting of Families. Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., chair of the committee, said he had no concerns about the cost to taxpayers. "I was aware of the cost before the bill was introduced," Goode said. "It was a great moment for the city and a good investment."

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson did not call for a vote on zoning changes sought by the developers of a South Philadelphia casino. The project has been controversial because of allegations that one developer, Cordish Cos. of Baltimore, discriminated against black patrons at other locations. Asked Thursday why the bills were not ready for votes, Johnson said he was "still going through the process." Pressed for details, he repeated at least four times that he was "still just going through the process."

tnadolny@phillynews.com

215-854-2730@TriciaNadolny

Inquirer staff writer Julia Terruso contributed to this article.