Comcast is a major Philadelphia employer with its headquarters--subsidized with $30 million in taxpayer money--in that city: The $30 million figure comes from Dianah Neff, the CIO of Philly, and the driving force behind Wireless Philadelphia, an effort to replace dial-up access and expand those who use the Internet that's being fought as if it's a replacement for wired service. This article in The New York Times is quite good at looking at both the conflicts between Comcast and Philadelphia as entities. (There's a second article in Monday's paper, but online now, which even more strongly makes the case that this is dial-up replacement.)
Comcast, as usual, trots out details that don't make sense. They're a franchise and instead of defending their turf as a franchise, they talk about competition. They are in a monopoly situation licensed by the local government. EarthLink will be receiving a de facto franchise with much less public scrutiny. Part of the problem is that Internet service over cable isn't per se regulated: numerous laws and court decisions allow both DSL and cable providers to avoid oversight of those businesses to a large extent. Thus Comcast would have a great argument to make if EarthLink's bid allowed them to bring 100 channels into every home; a smaller argument on franchising when it's service that's at a fraction of the speed that Comcast offers.
The author summarizes this quite beautifully: "But the attraction of Wireless Philadelphia to its proponents is that it is a stand-alone, affordable network - not part a broader effort to sell video, voice and data services, the way companies like Comcast and Verizon have approached broadband."
The EVP of Comcast quoted in this article essentially ridicules the idea that Wi-Fi will reach into homes through this network. But the acidic and hilarious CIO Neff is quoted wondering why Comcast's venture capital arm just invested in BelAir, which makes Wi-Fi equipment for municipal deployment? (See posts from earlier this week on how cable companies have great advantages over from-scratch networks, however.) Neff also notes that Comcast will probably be reselling 3G cell services from Sprint or others.