Comcast Corp.'s Comcast Cablevision will build a
two-way data-transmission network in Philadelphia for the city's police and fire
departments, as part of an agreement that brought the system a new, 15-year franchise.
The city might be able to use the network to arraign
criminal suspects remotely via video, saving it transportation and insurance costs.
In the negotiations, Comcast also won the temporary return
of two access channels: one government channel that had only been duplicating the
programming of the primary, municipally run channel; and an education outlet.
The latter will be returned to public use as a digital slot
after the system's planned upgrade. The digital educational slot will allow the
school district to program a closed education channel, and Comcast will retain the analog
slot. Comcast has pledged a one-time contribution of $500,000 to maintain video equipment,
and it will wire and equip each school with a cable modem.
Under the deal, the city can reclaim the government channel
when it needs to by giving Comcast 60 days' notice.
The talks were unusual in their amity. Rather than the
rancorous talks that have strained cable-city relations in other cities, Comcast completed
the deal over two-and-one-half years of informal talks, two years in advance of when its
In other cities, such as in Chicago, local governments put
operators on notice that there would be no renewals without concessions on significant
issues, such as late fees. But no such ultimatums were issued in the City of Brotherly
Philadelphia is Comcast's hometown, and that helped to
smooth the way, local general manager Ed Pardini said.
"We have a very good Comcast operation here. No amount
of good politics can overcome a lousy operation," he added.
Comcast has committed to a $21 million rebuild to a
750-megahertz hybrid fiber-coaxial system, which will deliver 200 channels and better
Internet access, the company said.
A spokesman for the city did not return calls for comment.
Comcast has frozen the cost of its most basic tier, in
reaction to officials' concerns about the affordability of cable for senior citizens
and low-income residents. The freeze -- holding the broadcast-basic package to $10.68 per
month -- will last through March 1999, and it will benefit 6,000 customers, Comcast said.
The operator has maintained a loan fund for minority-owned
businesses, which it will increase to $500,000 from its previous $250,000. Also, the
system will increase its commitment to minority contractors and minority hiring under the