City to take up new, revised franchise agreement with Comcast

The City of Seattle has reached a tentative agreement with Comcast to renew the company’s non-exclusive franchise, which allows the company to provide cable television service to Seattle households. The revised agreement follows a letter Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell sent to Comcast asking for additional digital equity commitments for Seattle in light of Comcast’s recently announced agreement with the City of Philadelphia.

“Digital equity is central to my administration and I remain committed to ensuring that all residents have the resources to access essential services and opportunities,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “Today’s revised agreement reflects our efforts to get a better deal from Comcast. After extensive conversations over the weekend, Comcast agreed to do more for the residents of Seattle, including seniors, low-income residents, and housing-insecure youth.”

“At the end of the day, this is an unprecedented community benefits package for Seattle,” said Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology committee. “We fought hard to the very end to increase benefits for our seniors, youth, low-income households, and all of our residents.”

The proposed 10-year agreement between Comcast and the City of Seattle includes significant benefits intended to improve digital equity and access to information in Seattle. Benefits of the agreement include:

  • 600 free cable modem Internet connections to non-profit organizations serving Seattle residents, valued at approximately $10 million. These connections help increase digital equity by increasing the number of sites where the public can access the Internet.
  • Approximately $8 million to support public, education, and government television cable channels, including the Emmy award-winning Seattle Channel.
  • Free cable television service to government and school facilities, valued at more than $2 million.
  • Discounted basic cable television service for low-income households.

“The Denny Terrace Computer Lab exists to provide free computer and Internet access to the residents of Seattle Housing Authority’s Denny Terrace Building,” said Mike Pollack of Full Life Care.  “The lab has no funding and is completely volunteer managed. The lab would be unable to operate without this free service from the City of Seattle and Comcast.”

In response to Mayor Murray and Councilmember Harrell’s letter, Comcast has tentatively agreed to provide additional benefits that increase digital equity and lower the cost of Internet access.

  • Seattle will join Comcast’s pilot program where low-income seniors are eligible for the Internet Essentials discounted Internet program.
  • Comcast will increase its previously announced digital equity grant offered to Seattle from $50,000 to $500,000 (with grants of $100,000 per year for five years).
  • Comcast will partner with the City to help housing-insecure youth obtain devices, such as laptop computers, for accessing the Internet.

When considering differences in population size and the different durations of the agreements, these benefits bring the City’s agreement closer to Philadelphia’s while providing Seattle with greater flexibility in how to best increase digital equity. For example, the City may use the digital equity grant and possibly franchise fees to assist more eligible households in navigating and enrolling in discount programs from Comcast and others, expand access through increased Wi-Fi availability, or provide direct subsidies to a limited number of low-income individuals.

The City of Seattle’s Community Technology Advisory Board (CTAB) advised the City during the Comcast franchise renewal process and advocated for the additional benefits, including discounted Internet access for low-income seniors.

“I am thrilled to know we have leaders willing and ready to fight for digital equity in our city. CTAB heard from Seattle residents that providing affordable access for seniors and youth is a priority,” said Amy Hirotaka, chair of CTAB. “With this new Comcast franchise agreement, we can tell our community that we heard them, fought for them, and delivered. CTAB and the Broadband committee should be proud of the work done throughout this process.”

Pending today’s vote by the City Council, the renewed Comcast franchise will take effect in January 2016.