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Free Press Accuses Comcast of Packing FCC Hearing

Free Press accused Comcast of packing the Federal Communications Commission hearing on network neutrality at Harvard Monday, while the cable operator said it simply had lots of interested employees in the area and some line-standers to save seats for them.

"First, Comcast was caught blocking the Internet. Now it has been caught blocking the public from the debate. The only people cheering Comcast are those paid to do so," Free Press campaign director Timothy Karr said. “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 it with the future of the Internet?"

Comcast countered that it was just trying to make sure it could get seats given the push by activists to turn out their own supporters.

"Yesterday’s FCC hearing in Boston was open to the public and well-attended by many, including Comcast employees, who obviously had an interest in its content," the company said in a statement. "Comcast informed our local employees about the hearing and invited them to attend. Some employees did attend, along with many members of the general public. For the past week, Free Press has engaged in a much more extensive campaign to lobby people to attend the hearing on its behalf."

A Comcast spokeswoman conceded that the company hired line-standers but that those were only about 10% of the 300 or so people who got into the hearing. There were more Comcast employees there than the 30 or so line-standers would accommodate, she conceded, although she did not say how many.

Comcast was there in part to defend itself against allegations, currently being investigated by the FCC, that it blocked BitTorrent peer-to-peer traffic. Comcast executive David Cohen said the company did not block such traffic, but that it did employ reasonable network-management practices to prevent bottlenecks at peak periods.