The purpose of the FCC’s en banc hearing in Massachusetts Monday was a look at policies of broadband suppliers, and a big part of that was a look at Comcast’s role in inhibiting public access to a particular internet service. Now activists are charging the cable giant with inhibit public access to the FCC in the form of paid seat-warmers who claimed seats at the forum and turned them over later to Comcast employees.
Comcast admitted it did this, although it did not say how it hired seat-warmers nor how many there were. Comcast felt it was entitled to take the action since activist groups, as usual, were publicizing the event and encouraging members and sympathizers to show up.
That is not how the activists saw it. "First, Comcast was caught blocking the Internet," said Timothy Karr, campaign director of SavetheInternet.com. "Now it has been caught blocking the public from the debate. The only people cheering Comcast are those paid to do so. We didn’t have to pay anyone to attend the hearing. Comcast’s actions raise red flags for most people ‘ with good reason. Clearly, Comcast will resort to just about any underhanded tactic to stack the decks in its favor. And yet Comcast still expects us to trust them with the future of the Internet?"
According to the Associated Press, the presence of Comcast employees was credited for the applause generated during the testimony of a Comcast executive. Their seatwarmers are said to have shown up when the line started, at 7AM for an 11AM start time.
TVBR/RBR observation: The Comcast story has been kicking around for awhile but we’ve let it be reported elsewhere — although we’re generally in favor of net neutrality, seeing as we rely on free and open passthrough policies ourselves, that’s our issue, not necessarily a broadcast issue.
Anyway, the applause may have been nice for Comcast, but it appears that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin may be ready to side with Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein on the neutrality side of the fence. There are also movements in that direction in both Houses of Congress.
As for seatwarmers, we have to point out that in Washington there is an active trade in the place-holding business in the lines to get into Congressional hearings. The audience for almost all communications hearings can fill the usual hearing rooms — because there are always lobbyists, association execs and stakeholder staffers who want in — but it becomes a hot ticket if someone like Lowry Mays or Judy Collins is on the witness panel, generating long lines with many turned away at the door. That’s when you’ll see many spandex-clad bike-messengers and the like at the front of the line holding a sign that says NAB, or Shyster & Shyster PLC, or Radio Is Us Inc., waiting for the exec to show up minutes before the line starts moving.
One of the subtle joys of being in the working press is our ability to blow right past the line, flash our press badge, and head right on into the hearing so that you, our loyal readers, can get news from the Nation’s Capitol. There may be trouble ahead for those hiring placeholders, though. We hear part of a one of the proposed lobbying reform bills out there would make such line-holding illegal.