Cable giant Comcast seems to have moved on from its anti-BitTorrent filtering, and now appears to be engaged in a fairly low-tech astroturf campaign--which one commentator has called a "Denial of Citizen attack."
The Federal Communications Commission held a public hearing at Harvard University yesterday, primarily to discuss the cable giant's widely criticized filtering of BitTorrent traffic.
According to a number of first person reports posted online, as well as eyewitnesses that this blogger has spoken to directly, Comcast packed the room with hired warm bodies, some of which were sleeping. In addition to ensuring that there'd be a friendly audience to cheer for the company's Executive Vice President, the astroturf campaign also had an added benefit: un-Comcastic members of the public were kept out.
While the practice of paying for line sitters is fairly common in Washington DC, the $15-per-hour warm bodies typically swap their spot with a highly paid lawyer at the last minute. With the doors to the Harvard Law School mock-courtroom closed to latecomers, it's difficult to imagine how exactly Comcast's employees were supposed to come in and claim their saved seats.
A number of reports indicate that the hired mob provided vigorous, if slightly delayed, applause after the testimony of the cable company's bigwig David Cohen.
Someone at Comcast, it seems, is a fan of the opera, and has decided to bring back to life a 300-year-old tradition, the Claquer:
Claque (French for "clapping") is, in its origin, a term which refers to an organized body of professional applauders in French theatres and opera houses ....By 1830 the claque had become an institution. The manager of a theatre or opera house was able to send an order for any number of claqueurs. These were usually under a chef de claque (leader of applause), who judged where the efforts of the claqueurs were needed and to initiate the demonstration of approval.
This could take several forms. There would be commissaires ("police officers") who learned the piece by heart and called the attention of their neighbors to its good points between the acts. Rieurs (laughers) laughed loudly at the jokes. Pleureurs (criers), generally women, feigned tears, by holding their handkerchiefs to their eyes. Chatouilleurs (ticklers) kept the audience in a good humor, while bisseurs (encore-ers) simply clapped and cried "Bis! Bis!" to request encores.
Comcast, of course, denies any such actions, and claims that the napping dears were Comcast employees. A PR rep for the company issued the following statement:
"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. 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, the Free Press has engaged in a much more extensive campaign to lobby people to attend the hearing on its behalf."
Which made me think... What if the hired mob were not freelancers, but were in fact a bunch of local Comcast employees who'd been given the day off. Given the fact that the company's cable technicians have a well-documented history of falling asleep on the job (and sometimes on the sofa of a customer), is it that surprising that they dozed off during a discussion on traffic shaping and RST packets?
Decide for yourself. Check out the photo of the Comcastic mob from yesterday's hearing, and a Youtube video of a dozing cable technician. Do they really seem that different?