Philadelphia is ‘Very Angry’ with Comcast

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 5.23.00 PMNew Orleans       Just to be clear.  It’s not just me, ACORN International, Local 100 United Labor Unions, and the Arkansas Community Organizations who are ripping mad at Comcast for high rates, bad service, and making a cruel joke out of the “internet essentials” program rather than using it to help lower income families crawl over the digital divide:  it’s all of Philly, too!  Our partner, Action United, showed up and stood up at the first hearing in Philly on whether or not the Comcast franchise agreement should be renewed or renegotiated in Comcast’s home city.  They kicked it, as you can read from the Philadelphia Inquirer story.  Let’s see if Comcast finally hears what we’re saying.  Or, not?

 

 

 

 

 

Phila. is ‘very angry’ with Comcast

Bob Fernandez, Inquirer Staff Writer 

Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2015, 1:08 AM

City residents complained Tuesday about everything from Comcast Corp.’s troubled customer service to TV rates and corporate taxes during Philadelphia’s first public hearings on the cable giant’s request to renew its citywide franchise agreements.

“We here in Philadelphia are very angry with you,” Monica Rozin said at the mostly calm noon hearing in the basement of a public library off Rittenhouse Square. “Technology gets less expensive and you get more so.”

In the late afternoon, about 40 people held a rally outside South Philadelphia High School – the site of a second hearing – calling for Comcast to “pay its fair share” of taxes, expand a program for affordable Internet service, and freeze rates.

Activists also called for the company to continue funding PhillyCAM – public-access television channels and a studio.

The rally was organized by the nonprofit Media Mobilizing Project, a frequent Comcast critic, and joined by other organizations involved with disabled individuals, workers’ rights, and low-income housing.

“Remember, this is a deal,” Lance Haver, the city’s director of civic engagement, said at the 30-minute rally. “Comcast wants our rights-of-way and rights to our public spaces, and we have every right to demand what we want.”

About 60 people attended the hearing at Southern High. Many of them also attended the rally.

The hearings are part of a renewal process that began in 2013 and has gathered some speed this month with Mayor Nutter’s release of a 571-page consultant survey of the city’s cable- and Internet-related needs.

The four cable franchise agreements between Comcast and the city government expire in August, September, and October.

“We love Philadelphia, and value the strong partnership we have with the city and its residents, and are extremely proud of the world-class services we deliver here, as well as the significant benefits that are afforded by our franchise,” Comcast spokesman Jeff Alexander said Tuesday.

“In Philadelphia, Comcast has provided more than $163 million in franchise fees in the past 10 years and delivers 12 PEG [public, educational, and government access] channels for community use, along with substantial financial support,” he added.

Alexander said Comcast, which employs 8,000 workers at its headquarters and other facilities in the city, looks to have “a comprehensive and productive dialogue with city officials.”

Emotions ran high at times at the noon meeting, attended by about 40 people. But for the most part, the speakers were respectful, laughing and clapping.

Mike Miller, a 20-year city resident, feared that his Social Security number might fall into the wrong hands. “I would like them to destroy the Social Security numbers in their files and replace them with non-identifying numbers,” he said.

Oren Panitch, a Northern Liberties resident and Web developer, said, “We should be the shining example of what [Comcast] can bring to the rest of the country, but instead they want to charge more.”

Rosemary Devers of South Philadelphia said, “I’ve got a number of complaints.” One of them, she said, was talking with Comcast customer call representatives in the Philippines when she has a problem.

The next hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday at the MAST Community Charter School at 1800 Byberry St. Another will be at noon Thursday at the Community Center at Visitation, 2646 Kensington Ave.

The last two are at 5 p.m. Thursday at Martin Luther King High School, 6100 Stenton Ave., and noon Saturday at Bible Way Baptist Church, 1323 N. 52d St.

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Comcast Concedes Up Selling, Cox & Times-Warner Continue Silence, and FCC Snoozes

New Orleans  The cynicism that surrounds the claims of cable companies and the FCC around lowering the “digital divide” continues to move from cloudy skies to deepest fog with absolutely no action from the FCC to solve the problem, enforce its own order, or prevent embarrassment from its own prior, public announcements.   The FCC has ceased to be an effective corporate regulator, and moved to a position akin to a hand puppet.

In a top level meeting in recent weeks between the directors of our coalition ally, ACTION United, in Philadelphia with Comcast officials that direct the Internet access program, the company frankly and flatly conceded that “yes” they were up selling to poor people who were unable to navigate access to the company for their low-cost Internet access system.  ACTION United, Local 100 United Labor Unions, ACORN International and other organizations had sent one complaint after another to the FCC about exactly this practice and in tests with our members have duplicated it time after time as a continuing and ongoing policy of Comcast.  All of this directly contradicts the FCC order in Comcast’s acquisition of NBC/Universal that they provide such access to lower income families.  Despite the company’s concession, the Comcast executives gave no assurances that the policy would change.

The FCC has failed now to respond to any complaints filed from Houston, Little Rock, Shreveport, or Philadelphia.  In Philadelphia there is some indication that the FCC simply turned the formally filed complaints over to the company for action (inaction?!?), which indicates how captive the agency is to the companies it regulates.

Despite huge publicity and announcements in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal by the head of the FCC that there was a “voluntary” agreement by Cox and Time-Warner to provide similar service in the spring, there has been no announcement whatsoever that such a program has been prepared or exists.  Correspondence to Cox and Times-Warner in Louisiana and Texas from Local 100 United Labor Unions interested in enrolling our members and the Head Start families that we represent has not been answered.   The companies are hoping that poor and working families have as little knowledge of their promises as they have of the Internet, and probably aided and abetted by the FCC, felt confident that they didn’t really need to do anything anyway.

What an interesting set of government policies and corporate implementations this is.  There is no need to do little more than pretend, since performance means nothing and only marketing has meaning.  Meanwhile the divide gets wider and wider between the top and the bottom.

Thanks for nothing, FCC!

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Experience Shows Little Reason to Oppose Sick Leave Policies

Protest in Philly for Paid Sick Days

Miami    Gradually the community-labor campaign for paid sick leave in various states and cities is quietly making progress even in the throes of the Great Recession.   Connecticut has passed such a policy statewide.  San Francisco has had a policy in effect since 2007 giving 1 hour of sick leave (usable for a variety of purposes) for every 30 hours of work.  My interest was piqued recently in Philadelphia where a coalition driven by ACTION United and various unions passed a measure last year, were vetoed by Mayor Nutter, and now are ramping up to resubmit the measure with a veto proof majority.

Though the end of the world was forecast by various corporate Cassandras, no such thing seems to have occurred, which may be why the hootenanny around such a measure is being replaced by silent consent or outright yawns.

No small reason lies in the fact that, contrary to business bluff and bluster, when workers actually have sick days they not only do not abuse them as threatened, but in fact they hardly use them at all.  In a report prepared by the federal Center for Disease Control, cited by the Drum Major Center for Public Policy,

Workers with paid sick leave miss, on average, only 1.7 work days a year for illness or injury, according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The math is clear – hardly more than a day and one-half per year.  That is hardly burdensome in terms of either expenditure or staffing for businesses, yet a tremendous benefit for workers.  The San Francisco Restaurant Association has in fact called the sick leave plan there, “good public policy,” though they had originally opposed the measure.

So, mum’s the word, but while we keep it quiet, let’s have a big, silent cheer for the progress being made by those still pushing forward on the basic human rights of workers for relief in such humanitarian circumstances as their own or family sickness.

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Liberia, Fusion, Comcast, Cox, and Times-Warner

George Kieh, spearheading ACORN International's Liberia project, holding a copy of Global grassroots, and Wade

Philadelphia   The uncharacteristic Spring heat wave was broken by some rain making a predawn walk to Clark Park both invigorating and something of a relief.  After a couple of hours of conversation “catch-up” with Craig Robbins of ACTION United, we met with George Kieh to make plans to build an organization for Liberians in both Monrovia, Liberia, and in the concentrated communities in the United States.

ACORN International’s partnership with George is fascinating, because we are discussing a way that we could both build organization in New Jersey and Pennsylvania among Liberian expatriates which would provide representation, advocacy, and support services to them as well as create financial support for organizing in Liberia itself.  Simultaneously, we are creating the infrastructure and training program to begin building membership based community organization in Liberia itself that we can link in Africa to our organizing in Kenya.  The work follows the plan, and we id good work around Craig’s kitchen table outlining the setps we need to move forward.

On the way to a meeting with the ACTION United staff about our Comcast campaign I finally also understood better the Working Family Party strategy in Pennsylvania as well.  Fortunately they seem to be more aggressively committing to building an independent party and in Pennsylvania they have the added benefit of being able to use fusion in lower level contests like school board races and judicial contests, which could help crystallize support for the party efforts.

For the main event we spent a couple of valuable hours getting to do some face-to-face planning and brainstorming around our joint campaign alliance attacking the digital divide and trying to force the Philly-headquartered Comcast to finally comply with the FCC order in its acquisition of NBC/Universal and provide the $9.95/month plan and access to low cost computers.  We discussed a number of tactical options for wrenching up the pressure in coming weeks.  Not only are there various opportunities for actions, but the work being done by Local 100 with our Head Start employers who are joining our campaign in Houston, Shreveport, and Little Rock to obtain coverage for employees and clients of the program.  Recently these partnerships have brought Comcast back to the table for several meetings in coming weeks.  There was consensus that the campaign now has to also spread to Cox and Time-Warner to see if we can get them to deliver on their commitments and do a better job than the miserable performance Comcast has delivered thus far.  One of the organizers also noticed that Cox is now rolling out a national low-cost plan, which might also provide a partner for us to more effectively lower the digital divide.  Focus, focus, focus seems to be what we need to achieve now, since opportunities abound.

If I been in Philly more a full 24 hours, who knows what we might have been able to get done!

Wade and Craig Robbins, Director of ACTION United

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Sick Days, Taxes, and Street Theater at Moonstone

Talking Citizen Wealth & more at Moonstone in Philly

Philadelphia     What used to be a dead zone not far from Center City in Philadelphia was hopping on a Friday night with people all over the streets as I was dropped off in a mad rush from the airport as Jasmine Rivera, the regional organizer for ACTION United, drove off to find a place for the car.  We had a good crowd at Robin’s Books and Moonstone Arts Center thanks to Craig Robbins of ACTION United and his team, old and new leaders, old and new organizers, and friends and bystanders.

Once again it didn’t take long after describing the books for the ACORN post-mortem to begin, and these topics were covered in depth, but some of the more interesting questions involved the potential for community-labor coalitions, where I heartily agreed though answered that I thought the jury was out on whether or not these were real partnerships or simply transactional alliances where the community components were very much junior partners.  In Pittsburgh and Philadelphia one gets the feeling with both One Pittsburgh and Fight for a Fair Philadelphia that these are the labor equivalent of grass-tips organizations, which is ironic since the capacity for real partnerships seems remarkable in both places.  Something worth more investigation, I think.  Visiting with some of the organizers afterwards they regaled me with tales of the Fight for a Fair Economy street theater in front of Wells Fargo, which produced good humor, but I had trouble following the point or where it was producing any pressure or building much, so I need to find out more.

It was great to hear the progress being made on the campaign in Philadelphia to win sick days for workers in the city.  Last year ACTION United had led efforts to win sick days through the Council to be vetoed by Mayor Nutter.  This year they are gearing up to win a larger majority that could resist the veto.  The basic proposal seems to be 5 sick days for establishments with 5 or more workers.

Critically on the “citizen wealth” and “self-sufficiency” agenda, it was delirious to hear that ACTION United has now taken the first steps to move its tax preparation service to a fee-for-service basis.  Even at the introductory level of $30 per return, they have already brought in over $10,000 demonstrating the potential in this area is significant.

More disappointingly, I ran into Bruce Dorpalen, who had been with ACORN for many years and a key player in our housing programs and chief architect of the amazing housing counseling program we had run which allowed hundreds of thousands of families to obtain housing.  He confirmed rumors that they had shut their doors, unable to right-size the operation to the funding resources available.

Nonetheless, exciting things are in store in Philadelphia.  Seeing old and new leaders still wrapping their arms around the organization and trying to chart the path to the future, gives great hope.

More of the Moonstone Crowd

 

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Clean Rivers, Working Families, and Big Ideas

Some of our group in Pittsburgh, oldest leader still in the fight at 102

Pittsburgh     Hit the United Association of Labor Educators conference running in Pittsburgh and then connected with Maryellen Hayden Deckard, former ACORN office director in Pittsburgh now doing the same for ACTION United.  In no time we were visiting with CWA and other union workers rallying at Verizon to support their contract fight, and then sitting down for lunch at Mexico City with a bunch of labor cartoonists.  It was going to be that kind of wild ride in Pittsburgh!

In the afternoon I stumbled into two very interesting developments.  Both are undoubtedly worth further discussion in more detail later, but give a sense of the excitement and potential in important directions these days.

When you first hear the term Clean River Campaign, it runs right by you.  Must be another environmental thing, so good luck to them, next please!  A long conversation with Barney Oursler, the executive director of Pittsburgh United, who is the driving force behind this campaign reveals something much, much different in my reckoning.  For years I have said that any organization that comes up with comprehensive solutions to “loose dogs, bad drainage, and crummy trash pickup” might just have the formula for creating power everywhere.  Well, the real deal on the Clean Rivers Campaign is coming to grip with the issues that lie at the heart of sewer, drainage, and wastewater systems.  Pittsburgh, like literally hundreds of other cities around the USA, is confronting EPA compliance agreements which require billions of dollars worth of infrastructure investment to appropriately assure clean water and upgrade deteriorating infrastructure suffering from age, lack of maintenance, and design problems.  In Pittsburgh, not unlike many other cities, the problems are magnified because of the three rivers but also the 526 different municipalities and other governmental structures that are in the watershed and have water in this race as well.  Barney and his partners, including ACTION United, are contending over coming years with pushing aside bad plans but also getting a good program which is “green,” provides community benefits, and is affordable, all of which are high barriers.  From experience fighting water privatization triggered by EPA compliance agreements, including in New Orleans where we are still in the throes of this mess, I think this is worth real study and investigation.

Discussion at Big Idea

I also ran into a team of organizers and canvassers with the Working Families Party who are now expanding into Pennsylvania.  This is fantastic news!  The Working Families Party in New York, Connecticut and elsewhere has emerged as an important ballot-line effort giving real tools to progressive issues and low-and-moderate income families.  This would be a wonderful development in Pennsylvania.  Need to find out more about this and see if you can get this Party building in a neighborhood near you!

The fun part of my day in Pittsburgh was two back to back discussions about politics, organizing, and the state of movements for change in these days and times first in the late afternoon at the Big Idea Bookstore & Café, which is a workers cooperative operating over the last 10 years and expanding, and then a more informal discussion with leaders, activists, and organizers with ACTION United in their offices over pizza.  The excuse for both of these great events were talking about my books, Citizen Wealth, Global Grassroots, and Battle for the Ninth Ward, but the conversations were fascinating on a variety of topics.

Just to share some of the pleasure at the Big Idea several folks around the circle had been active in the Occupy movement in Pittsburgh, and we had a provocative discussion about the emerging role for anarchism emerging in progressive work.  There was still a lot of mourning for the death of ACORN as well in these times when change is increasingly high on the “demand” list.  I was optimistic that a new formation might be possible, but not that we would ever be able to get the genie back in the bottle.  Similarly at ACTION United, there was deep interest in “citizen wealth” campaigns around credit card debt and collections and student debt.  People could palpably feel the future slipping away and see lives of running from debt collectors and harassment as central parts of their future.  They were groping for organizational response.

No such meeting is complete without a discussion of Fox News of course, and the first reaction when they heard I had agreed to be interviewed for a voting special they were doing on the issue of voter suppression, was that I was “crazy.”  Once I had conceded that point as factual, I made the case that we still had no choice but to try and communicate whenever we could and advance the right and just positions on issues as important as full citizen participation and the prospects for democracy.  How could we ever refuse to take the side of democracy in the debate when so many were so arrogantly now arguing for repression?

I left with lots to think about from my discussions with my new and old friends in Pittsburgh, but I left them thinking about some “big ideas” as well.

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