Op Ed: New agreement for Comcast, city

Originally printed in The Philadelphia Inquirer on November 12, 2015

By: David L. Cohen, senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer at Comcast.

Comcast and Philadelphia are working hard to renew the franchise agreement that permits Comcast to offer cable TV to our city – building upon a vital, symbiotic, and mutually beneficial relationship that began more than 50 years ago.

Comcast serves many communities under thousands of similar agreements. But Philadelphia is different. It’s our home.

And while we’ve been asked to move our headquarters many times, we have always said no. We are grateful for the continuing opportunity to work with neighbors, colleagues, and city leaders on vital, mutual goals – creating a hub of innovation, providing an engine of jobs and economic growth, improving the city’s educational system, and bridging the digital divide.

We see the fruits of this relationship, from the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center rising in Center City to the 8,000 Philadelphia jobs we provide today (and the 2,800 the Innovation Center will create). We are one of the top revenue producers for the city, paying $163 million in franchise fees in the last decade and generating more than $750 million in tax revenue in just the last five years. In the next 15 years, we will contribute $269 million to the School District of Philadelphia alone.

Honoring the legacy of civic commitment pioneered by our founder, Ralph J. Roberts, we are one of the city’s top charitable benefactors, with more than 50 company leaders on more than 65 local nonprofit boards and more than $240 million in local donations since 2001. In fact, about 20 percent of our total cash donations go to Philadelphia organizations, even though the city accounts for only about 2 percent of our customers and revenue.

Above all else, we value our partnership with city leaders and organizations to close the digital divide. Comcast’s Internet Essentials program offers low-income families with school-age children home broadband for less than $10 a month – plus the option to purchase a heavily subsidized computer for less than $150 – along with comprehensive digital literacy training and community outreach to overcome the many obstacles these families face getting online, a model the NAACP calls “the largest experiment ever attempted to close the digital divide.”

More than 70,000 Philadelphia-area residents – and more than two million low-income Americans nationwide – have connected to home broadband through the program. And we are preparing to launch a pilot effort to expand the service to low-income seniors in Philadelphia.

Our new technologies and services are changing the way consumers experience media, entertainment, and communications. That includes the X1 platform – with its “on the go” viewing, cloud-based DVR, and on-screen scoreboard app, which is powered by Philadelphia-based OneTwoSee. Our customers here also have one of the most robust lineups of public, educational, and government channels.

We also offer the best high-speed Internet available and have increased speeds 16 times in the last 13 years. We have stood up thousands of WiFi hotspots at places like SEPTA stations, the Xfinity Live! Sports complex, and “down the Shore.”

We’ve been listening to our customers as well and have made a top-to-bottom commitment to improve every aspect of the customer experience. This is our number-one priority as a company.

We have rolled out powerful new tools so customers can manage service calls on their smartphones or the Web and contracted with UPS stores to allow customers to return equipment where it’s most convenient for them. Customers can now reach us on Twitter and Facebook, and we have opened five new service centers in the Philadelphia area (with plans for 10 more in 2016).

We are proud to be a Philadelphia company, employing thousands of our fellow citizens and providing service to hundreds of thousands more. We look forward to renewing and strengthening this partnership and to working together to cement Philadelphia as a global leader for years to come.