CXO

Comcast may be in the hot seat, but who did it pay to sit in it?

On Feb. 26, the public hearing in Boston between the FCC and Comcast was packed. Hundreds of concerned citizens took the time to show up in an effort to speak on the importance of an open Internet. But when they reached the door, they couldn't come in.

On Feb. 26, the public hearing in Boston between the FCC and Comcast was packed. Hundreds of concerned citizens took the time to show up in an effort to speak on the importance of an open Internet. But when they reached the door, they couldn't come in.

With seating limitations and occupancy limitations, the crowd was controlled to the 95 available seats. Unfortunately, all seats were filled as early as 90 minutes prior to the start of the meeting.

Generally, that would be thought of as a good thing. There was obviously enough interest in the proceeding that a large number of people felt it worth their time to attend. But photographs of the attendees would indicate otherwise.

From Save the Internet:

They arrived en masse some 90 minutes before the hearing began and occupied almost every available seat, upon which many promptly fell asleep.

One told us that he was "just getting paid to hold someone's seat."

He added that he had no idea what the meeting was about.

If he was holding someone else's seat, he never gave it up.

Many of this early crowd had mysteriously matching yellow highlighters stuck in their lapels.

It could be reasonably argued that Save the Internet, a group fighting for Net Neutrality, is biased in its reporting. And that argument might have held for some until Comcast admitted to paying people to fill the seats.

From Portfolio:

Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury said that the company paid some people to arrive early and hold places in the queue for local Comcast employees who wanted to attend the hearing.

Some of those placeholders, however, did more than wait in line: They filled many of the seats at the meeting, according to eyewitnesses. As a result, scores of Comcast critics and other members of the public were denied entry because the room filled up well before the beginning of the hearing.

Khoury said that the company didn't intend to block anyone from attending the hearing. "Comcast informed our local employees about the hearing and invited them to attend," she said. "Some employees did attend, along with many members of the general public.

This makes one wonder if it is possible for a company to be so big that it can dictate policy even to this level. But while it may be able to fill seats in a room, it can't stop people from speaking up. As I reported on Jan. 16, the FCC had a way that you can make your voice heard using the FCC feedback system. Unfortunately, the deadline to file a comment directly was Feb. 13. Save the Internet has set up an additional commentary system with an official deadline of Feb. 28.

From the beginning, Comcast has taken the position that traffic shaping is necessary in order to preserve the Internet experience across the board. If that argument is indeed valid, it makes one wonder why this kind of effort is necessary. Wouldn't the facts speak for themselves? Perhaps in this case, they speak volumes.

What are your thoughts? Do you think that packing a public hearing with paid bodies is an acceptable practice, or do you find that it excludes a healthy cross section?

More information:

Comcast denies crowd shaping, crowd delaying at FCC hearing (Ars Technica)

31 comments
pixolut
pixolut

The internet is free and it should be your choice to get an ISP which satisfies your needs as a consumer. Thats a free market. Consumers are wrong to enforce rules which Comcast requires for the benefit of the great majority of its customers. Comcast is wrong for not disclosing its processes. These are two fundamentally SEPARATE issues which should be addressed in precisely that way. At worst, Comcast should provide customers who do not approve of its traffc shaping the ability to terminate their contract and refund a portion of their subscription fees. Free Internet advocates should go and annoy someone else.

seanferd
seanferd

They couldn't use a high school auditorium or something? It sounds like access control was engineered from the start.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Falling asleep,paid to hold a seat.What do you do when the injustice is that high?The onslaught against computers,software and the Internet is at the travesty level.

BaltimoreBarry
BaltimoreBarry

Why is anyone surprised at Comcast's nefarious ways? They are trying to protect a monopoly that has earned them over 200 Billion (that's Billions with a big "B" folks) in excess profits over the last twenty years. I have always said that the Internet would wind up as a utility, like power, gas. Then the question was would it be a regulated monopoly, like telephone, and energy, used to be? Or would a free-market approach work? If free-market is the way to go, and I think it is, then Comcast must be allowed to set the "rates" it charges for traffic. Then the question of who pays for the traffic, in which direction, occurs. The user, after he clicks on a selection? Should the originator pay to get the selection choices to the user? How about the cable company or other infrastructure provider? Don't they want to get their offers in front of the users who must select? If they-the users- don't know about it, they can't choose it. And finally, the bandwidth. Who should pay for what amount of bandwidth being used to deliver the content? Since video obviously costs more than email to send and receive, who pays for what? If you believe that Comcast can set whatever rates they want, then you must also provide for competitors to access the Comcast and Verizon, and AT&T infrastructure, the "pipeline," at reasonable rates. That's the only fair and real way to allow a free market-place to generate the most choices for the least cost; unfettered, open-market, take-no prisoners-competition. Unfortunately, after over two generations of monopoly, I am not sure that anyone remembers, or cares, the monopolies were encouraged to give a reason for the build out of cable. And look at the rates we've "enjoyed" because of this ill-founded decision. Does ANYONE think that Cable would not have gotten started without a monopoly? In any case, cable just wanted "profit insurance" and we gave it to them, big time. If a monopoly is needed, how come Verizon, and Charter, and Time-Warner are building fiber-optic systems to deliver content without even a whimper, a hint, a lobbyist's request for a subsidy, or, bite-your-tongue, whisper "monopoly." Does ANYONE think that they are in it for fun, as a giveback to our great society? No, they are in it for the profit opportunity. And profit potential is there, big time. Let's just make sure that if we continue to allow monopolies, then we must allow content neutrality. If we allow "market determined" rate setting, based on traffic, infrastructure cost, profitability, then we MUST allow free access to the infrastructure at reasonable rates. Reasonable being defined as an ROI that meets the needs of the provider, but doesn't gouge the competitor into a position where it would be unprofitable to offer any content.

carot
carot

At some point, the Comcast consumer fraud and interfering with commerce (interstate and international) proceedings will move from public hearings to criminal courts and they will be unable to play games (unless they are in prison courtyards).

psychoreggae
psychoreggae

Pardon my cynicism, but these kinds of situations exhaust me. This is the kind of stuff that erodes public confidence in our democracy. When people hear about this why shouldn't they believe that those with the most money have more voice than the common citizen? What common citizen has the money to pay people to represent their interests en masse like that? What Comcast did was probably not illegal, but it was certainly unethical. It's a shame they'll be let off the hook for this without so much a breath of reprimand from the committee - and you can be sure, they *will* be let off the hook. It's enough to make one throw up his/her hands and just quit deluding themselves that they have any say in anything at all in this country.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

[i]As I reported on Jan 16, the FCC had a way that you can make your voice heard using the FCC feedback system.[/i] ... if they throttle traffic to THAT site :)

Tig2
Tig2

Whether you are a Net Neutrality supporter or not, the decision by Comcast to shut out the general public in the Feb 26 meeting must certainly seem ill-advised. Given Paul Mah's article yesterday, I thought some excellent points were made that might have vindicated the cable giant's practice of throttling certain traffic. But I have to wonder how good that argument is if Comcast felt the need to restrict access to a public forum. What do you think of the the whole thing? Comcast argues that stacking a room is common in Washington. That may be, but is it really appropriate at a public forum? You can read Paul Mah's article here: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/tech-news/?p=2078

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