Comcast denies using survey to sway Philly residents on franchise deal

 Consumer advocates say Comcast has been using a

Consumer advocates say Comcast has been using a "push poll" to boost its position as it negotiates a new franchise agreement with Philadelphia officials. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Consumer advocates say Comcast has been using a “push poll” to boost its position as it negotiates a new franchise agreement with Philadelphia officials.

Comcast representatives confirm they’ve been calling customers, but they say the most recent Philadelphia phone survey was “routine,” just one of hundreds of similar surveys conducted every year nationwide.

But a Comcast spokesman declined to share the exact questions the company has been asking or discuss any other details.

That position left Comcast customer Chris Rabb, a professor at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, shaking his head in disbelief. Rabb said he was called for the survey, and that its bias was clear.

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“The questions were so incredibly framed to be supportive of Comcast — like, ‘Do you believe that it’s a good thing that Comcast employs 8,000 people in the city?’ That sort of thing,” Rabb said.

He said the call started out sounding like a typical customer survey, but the questions about the ongoing franchise negotiations with the city seemed calculated to trigger a fear of higher bills.

“It all had to do with increased expenses that the city would levy on them in exchange for this exclusive franchise,” Rabb said. “And at no time did they ask me if I thought that was a good thing. They only asked if they thought that it was fair that Comcast customers pay for it!”

Saying the survey was unrelated to the franchise talks, the Comcast spokesman strongly denied that it was a “push poll” intended to shape public opinion. A push poll is typically defined as a survey that appears to be objective, but whose questions are crafted to encourage the listener to reach a particular conclusion.

Rabb was one of a handful of activists and advocates who rallied at City Hall Thursday, calling on city officials to hold a firm line with Comcast and make sure it pays its “fair share” under the next franchise agreement, which is renewed every 15 years. Advocates and city officials alike hope to secure millions from Comcast to support everything from low-cost Internet access to a major upgrade to the city’s data network.

Comcast and city officials will likely be negotiating all summer over the new franchise agreement.

City officials have said little about their strategy or exact priorities, but a spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter said that the talks are ongoing.

“City representatives are meeting frequently with Comcast,” wrote spokesman Mark McDonald in a statement.

And as for Comcast’s recent survey, McDonald said the administration didn’t know any more than anyone else, but would welcome any fresh information that Comcast could provide.

“It’s not at all surprising that the company might wish to gather data,” he wrote. “But we have no information about the specifics. If the survey and results are eventually shared with the city or released publicly, we will carefully analyze the questions and results.”

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