Comcast paid people to stand in line at FCC hearing

People were only used to hold places for Comcast employees, spokesperson says

Comcast spokesperson Jennifer Khoury Wednesday told Portfolio.com that the company had paid some people to stand in line and act as placeholders for Comcast employees who wanted to attend yesterday's FCC hearing on its traffic management practices. (See also: Comcast takes lumps at FCC panel.)

Khoury said that the company had not intended to block public access to the hearing, but instead had simply “informed our local employees about the hearing and invited them to attend.” She also noted that several members of the public attended the hearing, along with the Comcast employees.

When contacted by Network World, Khoury’s office referred the matter to Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s senior director of corporate communications and government affairs. Fitzmaurice refused to answer directly when asked whether Comcast had paid anyone to act as placeholders for company employees. She also accused the Free Press, a frequent Comcast critic, of trying to stir up controversy and called the matter a “non-story.”

While Fitzmaurice would not directly acknowledge paying anyone to stand in line, she did say that Comcast had sent employees to get seats at the hearing hours before it began. The reason for this, she said, was because the Free Press and other organizations had been promoting the event and encouraging people to attend, and Comcast wanted to make sure that employees who wanted to attend could get seats. Fitzmaurice said she did not know how many Comcast employees attended the meeting.

Fitzmaurice said she arrived at around 8 a.m. for the hearing, which officially began three hours later. At the time, she estimated that there were roughly 50 people in the room and that the hearing room didn’t really begin filling up until around 9:30 a.m. Several people who wanted to attend the hearing yesterday were denied access because the hearing room had no available space by the time the hearing started. Several people stood in the downstairs lobby and listened to the proceedings through a live audio stream from the FCC’s Web site.

The Free Press reported in a blog post today that it had spoken to a hearing attendee who admitted that he “was being paid to hold someone’s seat” and that he didn’t know what the hearing was about. The Free Press was not able to confirm, however, that the person had been paid by Comcast.

Comcast has been under fire from advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Free Press since last October when the Associated Press reported that the company was actively interfering with some of its customers' ability to share files online through peer-to-peer applications such as BitTorrent.

During the panel, several participants accused Comcast of engaging in anticompetitive behavior and said that the company had deceived consumers by not telling its customers about its traffic management practices. Daniel Cohen, Comcast executive vice president, defended his company by reiterating many of the same points that his company made in its recent FCC filing that described Comcast's traffic management as “reasonable network management.”

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