Focus turns to public access programming as Comcast hearings continue

Hulking grey mirrored tower against a grey sky

Comcast headquarters in Philadelphia (Emma Lee/WHYY)

As Philadelphia prepares to negotiate a new franchise agreement with Comcast Corp., hearings about the cable giant continued Thursday with a session in Kensington.

Frustrated subscribers so far have barraged Comcast officials with with caustic comments about the company’s service. City officials are hoping the exchanges will help bring about a network upgrade, better customer service, expanded broadband access and simpler bills.

And though they haven’t said what exactly they’ll prioritize in final negotiations with Comcast, city officials are striving for a new deal that also will give a boost to public access television.

The nonprofit PhillyCAM already produces about 900 hours of original public access programming annually. Supporters say expanding the program would help more young people learn marketable skills.

“Everybody works together at PhillyCAM, as independent producers, said Shante Barrett, a producer with the nonprofit. “It doesn’t matter your religion, race, gender – it’s like, can you operate the camera? Did you take the class? OK, I took the editing class, let’s put it together, and let’s do it.”

PhillyCAM channels show government functions, community events and original productions. But a recent survey found most Comcast subscribers never watch that programming.

“You’ve got to keep in mind that it took 27 years to get the beginnings of PhillyCAM,” said Jim Moran, a board member. “When it was done in cities across the country, we were kind of last. So we feel like we’re kind of behind, and we’re playing catch up, and we hope that Comcast can see their way clear to assist us even more in the projects that we’re working on.”

The first round of hearing will conclude Saturday with a forum from noon to 2 p.m. at Bibleway Baptist Church, 1323 N. 52nd St.

City Council also is planning to host hearings later this spring.

Editor’s Note: Comcast is a supporter of WHYY.

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