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July 14, 2014, 9:27 am

Council tags Verizon for contract hearings

Jim Kenney: Company breaking promise to serve low-income areas

 

Concerned that telecom giant Verizon is overlooking the city’s poor neighborhoods as it rolls out FiOS, its fiber optic cable network, Philadelphia City Council on Thursday authorized hearings on the company’s franchise.

The unanimous vote came over the objection of Doug Smith, a Verizon vice president who said the hearings were unnecessary.

“Table it. Table it,” Smith said repeatedly during the public comment section of the meeting, referring to a resolution, sponsored by Councilman Jim Kenney, to authorize hearings.

But Kenney refused to back down.

“To quote Shakespeare, I think he doth protest too much,” said the councilman. “When a large, national corporation tells us that there’s no need for hearings, that’s generally a pretty good reason why we should have them.”

Smith worried that hearings would compel the corporation to divulge proprietary information in a public setting. Kenney dismissed the notion.

“This is a public contract,” Kenney said. “It should be discussed in public. They have proprietary concerns. I understand that, but we awarded this franchise in a public way, and this is the public’s business.

The city granted Verizon the right to roll out FiOS in 2009. At the time, the agreement was heralded because when installation of the fiber optic network was complete — in 2013 — residents would have an alternative to Comcast, which currently has a monopoly on cable in much of the city.

“Your constituents are benefiting from the price and competition,” Smith said. “In response to the millions of dollars of investment and the flow through benefits of that investment in a very difficult economic environment, Verizon is rewarded with this resolution calling for hearings based on unreliable sources that are simply wrong.”

Kenney said he had become concerned after hearing that the corporation was not rolling out its program in low-income neighborhoods.

Earlier this month, Kenney told reporters that someone who worked for Verizon told him the company was not complying with its franchise agreement, which requires that it provide service citywide.

“We’ve had information coming from inside the company that says they may not be following what they committed to do when we granted the franchise,” Kenney told reporters last week. “We were happy to have competition with our current major cable provider, Comcast. But we want to make sure that every neighborhood in the city is getting built out with the FiOS, and not just neighborhoods that can afford to pay the fees,” he said.

Smith said the information was incorrect.

“We don’t do business like that,” he told council members on Thursday. “We are building in low-income neighborhoods. It’s a contractual obligation that we take very seriously.”

He added that he was concerned that Kenney had based his call for hearings on information from an unnamed source.

Kenney held his ground.

“The more and more agitation I sense from Verizon, the more I suspect we should have the hearings,” he said.

In other news, Council approved a resolution urging the state legislature to repeal its expansion of the “castle doctrine,” which gives Pennsylvanians the right to stand and use deadly force when confronted with a situation that they feel threatens their life.

The resolution passed 16-0 with Republican Brian O’Neill the only member to vote against the measure.

Council failed to move on a motion made two weeks ago by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell that would authorize hearings on Mayor Michael Nutter’s ban on feeding the homeless in public parks. It was the second week in a row that the item was on Council’s calendar but failed to move.

Nevertheless, the fact that it was on the calendar allowed the public to speak on the matter and so Niko Rayes, with Food Not Bombs, took the opportunity to chastise Nutter for his stance.

“We stand without shame with those have fallen on the hardest of times and who Mayor Nutter clearly has no understanding of,” she said.

Nutter has formed a task force to study the options for groups who serve meals outdoors and named Blackwell as one of its members.

 

Contact staff writer Eric Mayes at (215) 893-5742 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .