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