Comcast offers Seattle the Philly weasel, er, deal

11 December 2015 by Steve Blum
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After months of fighting, Comcast and the City of Philadelphia reached agreement on a new 15 year cable franchise agreement that included a few spiffs, like expanded eligibility for the low income, $10 a month Internet Essentials program. The announcement came on the eve of a city council vote in Seattle, that would have approved a less generous deal. So, Seattle balked and asked for the same terms as given to Philadelphia. Surprisingly rapidly, Comcast and Seattle negotiators agreed on a few deal sweeteners, including the same IE eligibility upgrade.

All was fine until it came to a council vote and, as a story in GeekWire tells it, a couple of council members read the fine print…

Nick Licata and Tim Burgess expressed worry that the newly-added benefits are not part of the actual franchise agreement, but rather included in a separate letter. “There is some risk that, without consideration, Comcast could change these benefits,” [Councilmember Bruce] Harrell admitted. Given this, the new benefits cannot be enforced by the city, unlike the mandated requirements in the franchise agreement. Even though the city’s law department approved this method, several councilmembers weren’t comfortable approving the new agreement without something more enforceable. The council pushed back the vote to next Monday, Dec. 14.

I’ll take the risk of offering some free advice to Seattle: put it in the contract. In big, bold, capital letters. Otherwise, Comcast will ignore it at its earliest opportunity.

Even if Comcast ran it like an honest promotion, Internet Essentials is not a permanent program. It came out of the purchase of NBC/Universal, but the hard requirement expired a couple of years ago. Comcast extended the offer in an effort to generate good will while it unsuccessfully tried to buy Time Warner and swap markets with Charter, but it could, and likely will, pull it the minute it thinks it doesn’t need the political cover.

Put it in the contract.