Mayor Nutter cites Philly customer gripes in demanding more from Comcast

 (NewsWorks Image)

(NewsWorks Image)

With negotiations over a multi-million-dollar franchise agreement about to begin, Mayor Michael Nutter says it’s time for Comcast to provide more and better service to Philadelphia residents.

Comcast isn’t taking any criticism lying down. “Flawed,” “misleading” and “over-stated” were three words the company used to describe a new city survey showing that one in four Philadelphia Comcast customers is dissatisfied with their cable and Internet services.

But Nutter called that same survey — eighteen months in the making — a “statistically valid” examination of the pros and cons of life with the cable giant here in Philadelphia.

“The report findings indicate that 26 percent of Comcast cable subscribers were dissatisfied overall with their cable service,” Nutter said – a significantly lower satisfaction rates than Comcast gets in other parts of the country, he said. Picture quality and signal for public access channels “is lower than other channels, and unsatisfactory,” Nutter said, and broadband access needs to expand.

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Nutter praised Comcast’s record as a corporate citizen, but called those customer concerns a “critical aid” to the city as the franchise negotiations get underway, and he invited residents to continue sharing their concerns, through emails, letters, and a series of public forums that the city will host next month.

The mayor insisted that the city would take a hard-nosed approach to the negotiations.

“We want the very best for our citizens and our customers — now, and for many many years to come,” Nutter said. “So we’re going to approach these negotiations with all of that in mind, looking out for the interests of our citizens.”

The franchise negotiations represent a unique opportunity for the city. The fifteen-year deal allows Comcast access to city streets to lay its cables. Last year, the agreement reportedly netted the city $17.5 million.

In a renewed deal, Nutter said residents need a long list of improvements, including more broadband access and better customer service. Other items on his wish list: improved picture quality on public access channels; stronger standards for customer service; and a “remediation program” for various code-complicance issues discovered during the survey process.

Comcast officials struck back quickly, saying they’re prepared to prove that the city’s survey was flawed.

“We appreciate some of the positive conclusions in the consultant’s report, but overall believe many of the findings are innacurate, over-stated, or misleading,” Comcast officials wrote in a statement. “We will deliver comprehensive proof of those facts to the city.”

Nutter’s requests, Comcast wrote, represent the sort of “gold plated” demands used at the outset of a negotiation “in order to extract more.”

Hannah Sassaman of the Media Mobilizing Project, a longtime advocate for better services from Comcast, said she found the mayor’s findings “interesting” and that it looked like a stiff fight was in the offing. “The mayor said he’ll be fighting hard, and we’ll fight with him,” Sassaman said.

“I think that Comcast has a question to ask itself, which is, what would a franchise that truly represents the needs of the poorest big city in America mean — both for them and for the communities we all call home?” she continued.

“If they’re able to pass something in partnership with the city that truly serves our communications needs, it’s going to be a powerful thing for them. The narrow terms of this franchise matter, but they’re just the starting point for the engagement of the public, City Council, and the mayor in a once-in-a-generation negotiation.”

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