Comcast hires seat fillers to block grassroots participants

Much of my client work centers around helping clients understand and implement customer interaction projects. During every project, there are questions that come up about what the limits are for engaging the community, and my answer always starts with some variation of:

“Well, what would you do if this was a friend or colleague, rather than a community member? What will make you feel good when you go home tonight and tell your kids/spouse about what you did at work today?”

Surprisingly, that tends to eliminate a great deal of negative customer interaction. What happens when you don’t ask yourself that question? Thanks to Comcast for providing us an unscrupulous, disgusting, sad, and all around unacceptable example:

Comcast acknowledges that it hired people to take up room at an F.C.C. hearing into its practices.

How big are the stakes in the so-called network neutrality debate now raging before Congress and federal regulators?

Consider this: One side in the debate actually went to the trouble of hiring people off the street to pack a Federal Communications Commission meeting yesterday—and effectively keep some of its opponents out of the room.

Broadband giant Comcast—the subject of the F.C.C. hearing on network neutrality at the Harvard Law School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts—acknowledged that it did exactly that.

At least Comcast owns up to this deplorable behavior. Well, almost.

Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury said that the company paid some people to arrive early and hold places in the queue for local Comcast employees who wanted to attend the hearing.


Khoury said that the company didn’t intend to block anyone from attending the hearing. “Comcast informed our local employees about the hearing and invited them to attend,” she said. “Some employees did attend, along with many members of the general public.”

For local Comcast employees? Seriously? If that were true, shortly before the session began, the seat fillers would have woken up from their naps and politely excused themselves since the “local employees” clearly weren’t going to be attending. But wait, it gets better! The Justification Express is dropping toys at all the stations in Cluelessville!

The revelation that Comcast paid nonemployees to stand in line at the hearing comes against the backdrop of a bitter public relations war between Comcast and its critics, including the public interest groups Free Press and Public Knowledge.

“For the past week, Free Press has engaged in a much more extensive campaign to lobby people to attend the hearing on its behalf,” Khoury said.

The spokesperson for a major and massive company actually compared a grassroots movement meant to honestly engage people in the process with her companies efforts to pay people to occupy seats thus blocking entrance for those actually interested in the campaign. Yeah, exactly the same. Do we honestly have to explain to Comcast the difference between honest grassroots engagement and dishonest blocking of debate?

And just in case you haven’t been wagging your finger enough, let’s remind ourselves of the point of this event:

The hearing was held to address complaints leveled by Free Press, Public Knowledge, the web-video company Vuze, and others, that Comcast is trying to stifle competition by blocking the delivery of rival video-on-demand services over its cable system.

Irony, thy name is Khoury.


For information about my Community Consulting, Training and Speaker services, or to find out more about Dinner5, my unique community for community builders, contact me today.

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