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The Internet Government Politics

Comcast Gets Hard Up At FCC Meeting 163

Posted by kdawson
from the asleep-in-the-seats dept.
alphadogg notes a story over at portfolio.com claiming, and presenting evidence, that Comcast paid people off the street to take up room at yesterday's FCC hearing in Massachusetts. Comcast acknowledges that it paid people to hold places in line for its employees. But Save The Internet claims that people were bussed in by Comcast and then took up almost all available seats in the meeting room 90 minutes before the meeting opened, blocking scores of interested people from attending. Such tactics are not unheard of in Washington DC, but how appropriate are they in a regional meeting on a college campus?
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Comcast Gets Hard Up At FCC Meeting

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  • by KublaiKhan (522918) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @07:06PM (#22565834) Homepage Journal
    What I want to know is how much one could get per hour as a professional "warm butt"--and what sort of requirements for participation there may or may not be. Are you contractually obligated to applaud, shout, and carry on? Or can you just sit and read a book?
    • by Otter (3800) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @07:14PM (#22565950) Journal
      Are you contractually obligated to applaud, shout, and carry on?

      Judging from the photo [portfolio.com], it's not a very demanding job.

      I'm in the neighborhood, and wouldn't have minded getting paid to stop by for a nap, although preferably not on Camo Dude's shoulder. And I'd have happily complained about RCN for free!

      • by ystar (898731) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @10:05PM (#22567738)
        I'm a student at Harvard, and for what it's worth, I can confirm the Widener stretch of Massachusetts Ave was lined with an unusual (and infuriating) number of peter pan buses today (maybe 4-5 buses total). I had assumed it was a group of foreign tourists or a big alumni meeting (two busloads of said travelers are a common sight every month or so) but now that I know the truth, I'm fuming at the ears over this.

        I'm contacting some friends in the Crimson to see if they plan to cover this in tomorrow's paper.
        • by ystar (898731)
          Sorry, I meant yesterday (obviously). I've been awake for the past 48 hours +/- a nap, working on a pset, if that serves as an excuse.
    • by spun (1352)
      Well sir, thanks for expressing interest in this exciting new career opportunity, but before we go any further, I need to measure your ass.
    • Alot of them sat down and went to sleep [dslreports.com]...
    • Re:Astroturfing? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by falconwolf (725481) <falconsoaring_2000NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @08:18PM (#22566750)

      What I want to know is how much one could get per hour as a professional "warm butt"--and what sort of requirements for participation there may or may not be. Are you contractually obligated to applaud, shout, and carry on? Or can you just sit and read a book?

      What if you speak out against those who pay you? "I'm here because Comcast paid me to be here, however I support net neutrality."

      Falcon
      • by mpe (36238)
        What if you speak out against those who pay you? "I'm here because Comcast paid me to be here, however I support net neutrality."

        Best to make sure that you get your money first. Though the implication here is that these people were paid to "reserve a seat", rather than as a Comcast proxy.
        Maybe the venue should have adopted the same kind of policy as many ammusment parks. Where this is considered to be "queue jumping", likely to get both people evicted.
    • Apparently, sleeping is fine.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @07:07PM (#22565854)
    It was touching when Bill the Wino, whom Comcast had been promised a fifth of vodka to fill a seat, entered a rare moment of lucidity and shouted, "I will not sell my soul for liquor anymore, net neutrality for all!"
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @07:07PM (#22565858) Homepage Journal
    One of the last things he did was have a 'community meeting' about property taxes, then let all his people in and fill the room before they opened the doors to the public.
  • just like OOXML! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by l2718 (514756) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @07:10PM (#22565890)
    Microsoft has been using the same tactic for the OOXML meetings (remember the incident in Sweden?) I guess manipulating public meetings is the next form of business competition.
  • Hmmm... sounds like a bug in the political system. We should fix that.
  • by Enuratique (993250) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @07:10PM (#22565898)
    Looks like the crack R&D team at Comcast has branched out and found a way to manage congestion at FCC filings too.
    • It is strange to think they are essentially forging supporters much like they were forging packets. Small playbook they have there.
  • by garcia (6573) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @07:11PM (#22565914) Homepage
    Such tactics are not unheard of in Washington DC, but how appropriate are they in a regional meeting on a college campus?

    Huh? I am all for thinking that this is dick move but to ask "how appropriate" it is seems a little ridiculous. It's a fucking college campus -- if anything, it shouldn't be permitted in "Washington, DC" (whatever that means) but if someone wants to fill a campus auditorium with highlighter toting narcoleptics, so be it.

    All this shows is that Comcast is willing to play dirtier than ever to ensure that their network operates in the manner they deem necessary. Normally I couldn't care less what a private business does with its customers but when they have a permitted monopoly in as many areas as they do, they should be held accountable for the bullshit they have been pulling using pipes that my tax dollars helped fund.
    • by wolff000 (447340) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @07:16PM (#22565980)
      I'm with you 100%. Comcast should be held accountable for this. If law makers are doing it they need to get booted and brought up on charges as well. This kind of thing just makes me sick.
      • by KublaiKhan (522918) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @07:22PM (#22566060) Homepage Journal
        Bring a suit against 'em for 'subverting the democratic process' I suppose. Or something else that sounds suitably treasonous.
        • by Rob Riggs (6418)

          Bring a suit against 'em for 'subverting the democratic process' I suppose. Or something else that sounds suitably treasonous.

          Is 'subverting the democratic process' illegal in the US?


          A fair response would be to have another hearing with the folks that couldn't get in, and allow Comcast one paralegal in the meeting.

      • by unitron (5733)
        Lawmakers don't do this, lobbyists do. They hire people to stand in lines for them so that when a committee meeting that's considering a matter of concern to them finally starts they have a guarantee of getting one of the limited number of seats available to the public in the room in which the committee is meeting. While their stand-in is standing in for them they're off somewhere else getting something else done instead of just standing around in a line waiting for congresscritters to start a meeting.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by proudhawk (124895)

      All this shows is that Comcast is willing to play dirtier than ever to ensure that their network operates in the manner they deem necessary. Normally I couldn't care less what a private business does with its customers but when they have a permitted monopoly in as many areas as they do, they should be held accountable for the bullshit they have been pulling using pipes that my tax dollars helped fund.

      if you really want to get the attention of comcast (and others), everyone should buy up as much stock as possible in comcast (and others), assign it to a voting block and force them to do the right thing by the power of voting stock. I know it sounds simplistic, but sometimes, its the simple things that get the job done.

      • by seanadams.com (463190) * on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @08:52PM (#22567058) Homepage
        Yes, drive their stock up! That'll teach 'em.

      • by Dahamma (304068)
        Are you KIDDING? Comcast is worth $60B. If you somehow managed to find people willing to buy over half of it (at which point it would inevitably be worth over $100B anyway, I'm sure...) Why would they then intentionally try to destroy their investment by working against the company's interest??

        If you want to organize the masses and get the attention of Comcast, wouldn't just having people switch to a competing service (satellite TV, DSL Internet, etc) be the sensical way to send a message?

        If you don't th
  • It wasn't as much for blocking competition from other companies but from blocking the public from speaking out. There's gotta be some law against this kind of thing...
    Oh wait...
  • ... about the people who accepted money to "attend" a meeting they knew nothing about? Pretty shitty ethics on both sides of this transaction.
    • by urbanriot (924981) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @07:16PM (#22565984)
      Hahah what planet are you from? I don't know many people that *wouldn't* accept a few bucks for sitting in a court room while they listen to their ipod or txt their friends, let alone people that might be down on their luck.

      ... about the people who accepted money to "attend" a meeting they knew nothing about? Pretty shitty ethics on both sides of this transaction.
  • Desperation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by milsoRgen (1016505) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @07:15PM (#22565968) Homepage
    It almost seems like a move of desperation, I can't imagine why they would be that desperate though. Granted public opinion seems to be against what they are doing, but when has public opinion ever generated decent regulation from the FCC.
  • by KookyMan (850095) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @07:34PM (#22566214)
    For those who aren't aware, its common practice for Lobbyists to pay professional "line waiters" in Washington D.C.

    Since lines form hours ahead of time for meetings and other public discussions, its a waste of time to force the lobbyist themselves to be waiting in line for 2-3 hours, so they pay someone to hold a place. I believe it was the Colbert Report that actually did a piece on this within the last couple of months. I think there was possibly some legislation being floated that would make some judgments on this practice.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by KublaiKhan (522918)
      Seems to me that if it's your job to go to a meeting that you should sit your own rear end in line.

      Besides, the more you have these lobbyists tied up waiting, the less you have them actually lobbying--so perhaps the congresscritters might have to listen to their constituents for once, if only out of sheer boredom.
      • by geekoid (135745)
        Yep. It's called "No Savies"

        Ask any 1st grader.

        This should not be allowed at all. You can have the person behind you save your seat, briefly. But if you are gone longer then 10 minutes, or the doors open while you are away. Too Bad, So sad.

        "no Swappies", or "Cutsies" either.

      • From a political standpoint, I agree.

        But from an economic standpoint, the market has decided that lobbyist time is very valuable (yeah, yeah, this is due to restrictions on supply of lobbyists, as well as constaints on who has access to politicians). In a capitalist system, we must assume that lobbyists produce something of value, since the market has assigned value to their labor.

        So what we're left with is that it's a very inefficient use of resources to have the lobbyists waiting in line. We're all be
        • by powerlord (28156)

          Otherwise, we'd need more lobbyists to fulfill the market demand for them, and other than the sharks themselves, who wants that?

          Well, the way I see it, there are other possibilities.

          1) More lobbyists (which would cost their backers more)
          2) The same number of Lobbyist, but spread out thinner (since each would campaign less)
          3) Less Lobbyists (since some might decide that sitting in line for hours is not something they care to do), or perhaps less "Competent" Lobbyists, combined with more cheap and less compet

    • by bandini (984310) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @10:22PM (#22567914)
      I was a bike messenger in DC for several years, and did a number of line standings. Messengers are often hired for this purpose, being familiar with the Hill offices, and being still more familiar with working as dispensable help for some of the worst people in the world.
      I never liked doing line standings, though they usually paid well (relative to my average income back then); besides being deadly boring, there was always a sort of bitter ethical aftertaste, it's true. I think the last one I did was for one of the asbestos hearings; I'll never forget seeing the looks on the faces of what appeared to be genuine concerned citizens, showing up at what they thought was an early hour only to find themselves effectively locked out of the room by a ragged bunch of guys in rain jackets and shoes that close with velcro - who were only proxies for three-piece suits and wing tips, but whatever.
      The deal (for whoever's interested in these things) is you show up at one of the Senate or House office buildings at some crazy hour, usually well before dawn or even a day or two ahead of time, and wait. The building isn't open yet, so you have to wait outside, and then march in to the hallway near the assigned hearing room, trying to preserve the order of the line as it was. Sometimes the hearing room is a ways from the open entrance; guys want to move up in line or at least not lose too many places, everybody starts walking faster and the line will break into a sprint. Kind of fun to run across the floor of the Hart building at 5am, bike cleats ringing on marble, but as things are generally a lot more locked down on the Hill these days I doubt if this happens much anymore.
      So one problem, for the waiter, is that while this is basically an accepted practice the Capitol Hill police don't really fully condone it, either. I'm guessing that there's no clear regulations, let alone laws, covering these things, but once you're inside the cops will threaten to kick you out if you try to sit down, or leave a bag or other placeholder in line while you use the bathroom. If they catch you holding someone else's place in line (besides the one person who's paying you to be there, natch) they'll wait for the other guy to come back and throw you both out. Their right to do any of these things is pretty vaguely defined, but good luck trying to lodge a complaint.
      Of course for important hearings where people are waiting for many hours beforehand, some bending of these rules has to happen, and so it does, but you have to defer to the cops by not doing it in front of their faces. They in turn give a little leeway; right up until an hour or so before the hearing, they only walk down the line once in 20-30 minutes, then as the time approaches they come by more and more often. By the time the lawyers and lobbyists show up it's a reasonably orderly scene. You're not really supposed to just have a sign out, airport-limo style, because somehow that is considered too blatant. So there's this funny school-dance thing that happens where a bunch of suits are walking up and down the line, looking for their guy or guys, both sides murmuring the names of various client firms. Once you find each other you switch out, and the cop who was diligently making sure you didn't hold your buddy's place for five minutes while he went to take a piss will stand there and watch and not say a damn thing.

      I have a very low opinion of the Capitol Hill police, for reasons only tangentially related to the above, so excuse me if that colors my description; I'm just describing the phenomenon from the underling's perspective for anyone who cares to know about it.
  • by BUL2294 (1081735) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @07:39PM (#22566276)
    It's Comcastic!

    Frankly, someone should open an investigation as to how many hundreds or thousands of $$$$ of cash were paid. I'll bet Comcast doesn't have 1099s for the people they paid, which they probably illegally did with CASH...
    • IIRC, a 1099 is only required if the total amount is >$600 by Dec 31.

      Using petty cash for this type of thing is interesting though. Although it's barely a rounding error in a company of their size, even a $2 pack of Bics from Staples produces a receipt. Can't imagine there's any paper trail in a scheme like this.

  • Comcast should be censured for it's behaviour but it's Amerika, if you've got money, it doesn't matter what you do. That's what's really wrong with America too.
  • Comcast (Score:4, Funny)

    by Funnydaddy (1246842) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @07:54PM (#22566458) Homepage
    With the rising unemployment in the US, Comcast could come to the rescue! Why don't they employ all the unemployed to 'reserve' spaces for their employees? What did they really hope to achieve with this blatant show of trickery?
  • I was in line (Score:5, Informative)

    by GabrielF (636907) <GJFishman@comcastFREEBSD.net minus bsd> on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @09:22PM (#22567316)
    My colleague and I run free wireless networks in housing projects. We both schlepped to attend this event and we were both turned away by Harvard cops because there was no room. It really drives me crazy that people whose livelihood is effected by net neutrality couldn't get in because comcast paid to pack the room.

    The event was run by the Berkman Center and even people who identified themselves as working for Berkman were turned away. Even a reporter who just wanted to stand in the back and take photos was hassled by the cops - I didn't stay long enough to see if they let him in. There were a lot of people who arrived around the time I did (fifteen minutes early) and insisted that someone was holding their seat, so maybe there is some truth to the part about the people holding seats for Comcast employees - but - the Harvard cops wouldn't let these people by unless they called the person holding the seat and that person came out, so unless Comcast provided their employees with the cell numbers of the seat fillers they wouldn't have gotten in anyway.

    I'm so mad about this that I want to tell everyone I know to cancel their comcast service, but because of the telecom duopoly most of the people I know who have comcast would probably have to pay a lot more to switch.
  • by merc (115854) <slashdot@upt.org> on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:00PM (#22568294) Homepage
    I for one welcome our conference-room-encroaching net-neutrality-astroturfing chair-sleeping overlords.

    Just a good thing Ballmer wasn't there, they wouldn't have been any chairs for THEM to sit on!
  • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:00PM (#22568296)
    Ethics are a lost cause. Ethics and being unethical used to be a serious issue. Honesty and Ethics used to be the characteristic of a great person. These days, no one expects ethics, no one even values ethics. When the majority of people act ethically and honestly, there is negative feedback to unethical behavior. When the majority of people don't care about ethics, unethical behavior is the norm.

    So much of a free society depends on ethics and the deal of ethics will be the death of freedom.
  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @11:11PM (#22568394) Journal
    Do it again, but

    (1) provide broad- and net-cast of the proceedings, and

    (2) provide for text and voice reception to the panel for questions from the audience, local and remote, and

    (3) provide a moderator whose job it is to see that the relevant questions are answered, or else specifically and overtly note that the relevant questions were non-answered with misdirection through irrelevant and worthless answers.

    Announce that this is how it's going to run, and I'll give 10 to 1 that Comcast will refuse to participate. Announce that independent testing has confirmed they've lied about their "packet shaping" blockage of P2P traffic, and I'll raise it to 100 to 1.

    Any day now one or another of these traffic blocking ISPs is going to blame participation in the goobermint's wire tapping program for the "unavoidable periodic slowdowns of certain types of traffic due to redirection of 'traffic of interest'" for analysis by the spooks. It's a lie that they all know will be recognized a such, but will be allowed to slip by the sheeple since it's for catching the terrorists who might want to blow up the Grand Canyon or some such.

    NSA:
    War Is Peace
    Freedom is Slavery
    We're Running a Little Behind

  • by zieroh (307208) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @01:52AM (#22569810)
    This is all part of Comcast's new Public Hearing Shaping technology.

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