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Comcast pays Americans to oppose net neutrality

Sleeping meat puppets

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Comcast is now paying Americans to believe in deceptive ISPs.

On Monday, when the US Federal Communication Commission hosted a public hearing that examined Comcast's penchant for throttling BitTorrent traffic, the big-name internet service provider paid "dozens of people" to attend the meeting on its behalf.

According to Timothy Karr, a campaign director for the net watchdog Free Press, more than 50 people wearing some sort of yellow tag walked into the meeting hall more than 90 minutes before the hearing was scheduled to begin.

"There was a large group of people that came in - in a very concerted fashion - and occupied a large portion of the seats," Karr told The Reg. "And when I say large group, I mean several dozen. The room seats 200 to 250 people, and an hour and half before the meeting, it was three quarters full."

Karr later recorded an interview with one of the yellow-tag-wearing automatons, and the automation said he was "just getting paid to hold someone’s seat."

When we spoke to Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas, he told us that the company had indeed paid some random people prior to the hearing. But like the interviewed automation, he claimed this was all about "saving spots" for Comcast employees.

"As is common practice in Washington, we did pay a few people to stand in line [outside the meeting hall] and then hold seats for some of our Comcast executives and other Comcast employees who were attending," Douglas said. "We were just trying to make sure the hearing was well-attended on our side."

There's no doubt that Comcast was just trying to make sure the hearing was well-attended on its side. But Karr has photographs showing that the yellow-tag wearers did not relinquish their seats to Comcast employees.

Comcast meat puppets

Comcast Meat Puppets

When we told Charlie Douglas about the photographs, he said "I don't have anything to say about that. I'm told we did not pay people to attend."

Timothy Karr also disagrees with Douglas when it comes to common Washington practices. "It's common practice in Washington for corporations and corporate lobbyists to pay people to attend public hearings to make sure they control the agenda - dictating when people applaud and so on," Karr explained.

It should be said, however, that some yellow taggers weren't up to pushing Comcast's agenda throughout the seven-hour hearing. As Karr's photographs show, some of them fell asleep on the job.

Comcast sleeping meat puppets

Sleeping Comcast meat puppets

Nonetheless, Karr added, these yellow taggers prevented many un-paid Americans from attending the hearings. "Even before the meeting began, the room was full and people from the community were turned away at the door. The carry on effect is that if you stack the room with paid seat-fillers, you exclude people from the community who may have legitimate concerns about the issue of net neutrality and the issue of Comcast toying with traffic."

Yes, we know. Some have argued that Comcast's traffic toying is perfectly reasonable. But there's a larger issue here. It's not just that Comcast is throttling BitTorrents. It's that the company did so without telling its customers. Even now, eight months after the practice was exposed, the company only half-admits what's going on.

Forget Comcast's efforts to fudge net neutrality. The company is also doing its best to fudge reality. This refusal to acknowledge that it paid people to attend a public hearing is just the latest example. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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