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Coalition pressures Comcast to help fund District schools

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Cheers of “Comcast got the tower, but the people got the power!” rang out from a crowd of nearly 100 education and social activists as they marched toward the Comcast Center in Center City on Sept. 11.

The protest, organized by CAP Comcast Corporate Accountability Project and Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, aimed to put pressure on Comcast to pay $35 million to the School District to modernize computer equipment and improve technology education.

“Powerful corporations like Comcast don’t pay their fair share,” said Ron Whitehorne, PCAPS coordinator, in a phone interview.

“If we’re going to have equitable funding for schools, that has to change.”

The proposed $35 million would pay for the hiring of a computer teacher in every school and broaden Comcast’s Internet Essentials, a program that provides inexpensive Internet service to low-income families.

Whitehorne said the activist groups are not asking for charity, but rather making demands of the cable giant as it renegotiates its franchise deal with the city. Comcast has benefited from city property-tax abatements, so, activists said, the company should contribute to improving education in the city.

According to Comcast spokeswoman Jen Bilotta, Comcast has contributed more than $100 million to the School District in the last seven years. But in 2014, according to data in a report by PCAPS, the corporation shorted the District $1.5 million in revenue. Whitehorne said the organization questions Comcast’s reported contributions to the District.

“In our view, they are shortchanging the children of Philadelphia,” he said.

“This is from a corporation that made $8 billion in profit last year, that gets revenue in upwards of half a billion dollars from its franchise agreement with the city. They have a quasi-monopoly position.”

As Comcast’s franchise agreement renewal approaches, Whitehorne said, PCAPS will continue to lobby City Council and encourage activists to testify at Property Committee meetings about funding the District.

“It comes down to how much power we can mobilize,” Whitehorne said.

“We’re not naive. … It’s going to be an uphill fight.”