Government

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.

suzejacobs
suzejacobs

Comcast is not holding its customers hostage - you have the right to drop a service at any time, there are no contracts with their service and no penalties; if you decide you've had enough go to another carrier and start a new complaint column. Not many customers are, or have time in their lives to concern themselves with the legislative side of their subscription. They barely take the time to look at the inserts within their bill. I think the abusers are the complainers.

Absolutely
Absolutely

[i]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.[/i] Comcast also has a vested interest in "settling" for a regulated market, a direct by-product of which is a guaranteed monopoly in many markets. The "Free Internet" people have no such vested interest, but have been indoctrinated to believe that creeping socialism since the "New Deal" has been a "good" thing, so they end up being overly eager to settle for the same regulations that make Comcrap possible.

seanferd
seanferd

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

Tig2
Tig2

Planners believed that the general public would move through- stand up, speak your piece, leave. Then another person could take your place. These guys came in, sat down, took a nap. Not quite what the planners expected. The FCC had also opened feedback in January. Save the Internet is taking public feedback until COB today.

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.

seanferd
seanferd

With both hands, shaking it upside down until all the change falls out of its pockets... It is a travesty. Of two mockeries and a sham.

SQL_Joe
SQL_Joe

Is it possible that Comcast is throttling to ensure equal access to all of its customers? I think the point made elsewhere in TR about the alternative of ISP's metering might be a far worse fate than letting the ISP control bandwidth usage on those things that have very VERY high bandwidth usage. There is only so much to go around. Seems to me this is similar to the Black Friday sales where items are limited to "X per customer". George

seanferd
seanferd

The "throttling" bit was a part of a pun, but to answer your question, throttling *is* ensuring equal access, as used by Comcast and others. Why should we be limited to "x/customer" when we've already paid for the product or service? Simply, why can they not provide the bandwidth offered? If you bought y down and z up, and you are not *somehow* exceeding these limits, why should anything be throttled back? Anyhow, the way the public hearing was co-opted is still a mockery. I thought this thread was about how a public hearing was derailed, but yes, I, too, have strayed.

Absolutely
Absolutely

No? Then I guess the bandwidth "shortage" is BS.

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.

Absolutely
Absolutely

[i]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. [/i] Boycotts have been known to have significant results in the past. The current CxO's and board members of Comcast are also matters of public record. They do not have to be prosecuted to be boycotted.

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

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

and so is paying people to stand in line to buy tickets for (you name it.. concerts, etc) Daily show made fun of the practice of lobbyists to hire people to stand in line to talk to them. They didn't shut out the public. The 'public' certainly could have stood in line also. Congress is getting ready to submit or pass legislation affecting their biz, including some that are abominations, such as forcing them to give unfettered access to those who run bittorent and similar servers out of their home, one of the stupidest bandwidth wastes there is. So I should give in to the 'right' of bittorent users to slow me down? I don't think so. They are doing the right thing by regulating that traffic.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

Someone else using the bandwidth that they aer paying for shouldnt slow you down. If they were exceeding their bandwidth, then there would be an issue. However, Comcast is not meeting their terms and bandwidth is decreased because people want to use the Internet at the same time, and they will not actually give you the pipe that was promised. This should not be looked at as the reason is someone is using their bandwidth, but that Comcast is not providing the bandwidth that we pay for. And what about those users who are using comcast, and paying for it that do not eat up a lot of bandwidth. then they go to download something (a rarity) and it is throttled back because of file type? Personally, I do much of my downloading at work, I have comcrap but I mostly use it for basic surfing, and rarely downloading. It costs a lot, but I like faster connections for things when I do go out of the ordinary, however I seem to have problems with content, even though I rarely come close to using the bandwidth that I pay for. However, this will likely not be brought up at all during this whole mess.

Absolutely
Absolutely

This is not rocket science; targeting a type of content instead of a volume of traffic [=bandwidth] is dishonest, plain and simple, because the service Comcast sold as "broadband Internet" was network bandwidth, not content. Their interest is in being everything to every customer. You can see how well that serves you by considering Microsoft's superlative performances.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

I disagree partially. I never said the bandwidth was 'unlimited', however limiting my bandwidth because of the type of files I choose to download or utilize is ridiculous. As stated previously, if they were only throttling or disconnecting from illegal usage (not just suspected) I have no problems with it. But if I am paying for a certain download speed, they should be giving me that speed. Since Comcast offers 'always on' and says your connection speed is this or that, they should not penalize users who happen to reach, and/or utilize the limits that they are paying for.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

unlimited bandwidth for servers. You have to pay extra for their biz services for that. In fact their agreement specifically prohibits servers and robots operating on your machine when you are not personally using it. They only notice when your user gets excessive. Bittorent and having a server on your home PC is particularly stupid waste of bandwidth. This is like putting a high-volume store on a small residential street that is shared by other home-owners. Since actual high speed servers are DIRT CHEAP - unlimited storage space and 20g/mo for example, on many ACTUAL SERVERS in datacenters that are connected by very high speed links directly to the net, ($90/year I'm paying), the idiocy of bittorent amazes me. Seems like everyone has to be 'cool' and waste gobs of bandwidth to share stolen movies.

Absolutely
Absolutely

[i]So I should give in to the 'right' of bittorent users to slow me down? I don't think so.[/i] Nobody is [u]trying[/u] to slow you down, except for Comcast, which is unable to provide any of their customers with the service they promised, merely because a small fraction are using all of what was promised. It isn't your fellow Comcast subscriber who is cheating you.

seanferd
seanferd

You don't think that poor network design and overselling bandwidth have anything to do with it? Why can't anyone paying for the service use all their available bandwidth 24/7/365.25? If someone were somehow using more than their allotted bandwidth, and not paying for it, I would agree. Any statements in the TOS for any provider allowing that the bandwidth rating you are paying for is the maximum, and not necessarily what you will receive, is a load of vulture entrails, and not worthy of acceptance. I can see your point, but the providers need to supply realistic bandwidth first, then they can throttle "abusers". In return, I will allow any provider to throttle all huge flash-based advertising on the downstream side without complaint. They can also throttle any video-on-demand service they are providing.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

if idiot bittorrent users act as a server and are on all day, they ARE SLOWING EVERYONE ELSE DOWN on my cable segment. That is what Comcast is managing.

armstrongb
armstrongb

Comcast has dug their own hole and then jumped into it. Hopefully, we can all dance at their funeral. They are a mediocre service provider. Comcast in my town had massive saturation due to misconfigured routers and inadequate provisioning. Comcast support personnel told me this 2 years ago. Many of my neighbors use VOIP, have kids who YouTube and BT among other things. Service would show degradation everyday from about Noon to midnight, this for all you can eat service according to the ads they tout in our region. I got so disgusted I went out and acquired DSL from a phone company so that my neighbors legitimate usage did not deny my legitimate usage of the resource we were paying for from the cable monopoly. The good news is that I have a choice and it is performing to expectation. A dedicated pipe is a lot better than a shared one -- at least where I live.

eclipse63
eclipse63

This is what happens when you allow a monopoly. The only choice that person has on the cable service that they want is to physically move to that area. I doubt you would see this if people could vote with their wallet.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...Comcast has learned well from the Clintons.

mford66215
mford66215

If the story that Comcast had packed the room hit the general public then Comcast would be hurting over it. As long as the story is limited to the IT industry they don't have to worry about it. So get the word out if you feel they've been stupid by filtering, or ignore the news if you agree with their opinion.

dawgit
dawgit

It hit the Washington Post today. That should stir up some thinking. -d

Tig2
Tig2

News on the Internet anymore is analogous to any other news. It won't stay hidden. I just found it first. Edit to add: eFlux ran it 2 hours ago: http://www.efluxmedia.com/news_Comcast_Limits_Both_ P2P _File_Sharing_And_Seats_To_FCC_Hearing_14520.html Online Media Daily 2 hours ago: http://publications.mediapost.com/index.cfm? fuseaction=Articles.showArticleHomePage&art_aid=77363 Associated Press: http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5huAOgy6g1S5wW- 7ft0FRuIypdzLQD8V2BE281 The AP article wasn't available yet when I wrote the story.

dawgit
dawgit

Open Government. And real puplic involvement. Sad that people actually put up with that. (Seems nice though that they didn't get psyical and throw the bums out.) It seems that the 60's are definately over. -d

Editor's Picks