The Net Neutrality Battle’s “Philly” Flavor

Net Neutrality is an issue I know little about, but it’™s a Philly issue when Comcast and its Executive VP David Cohen is involved. The FCC hearing at Harvard is the subject of controversy, with Comcast blowing it with a sophomoric strategy that backfired bigtime.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Oh, I suppose hijinks like Comcast’™s blocking opposition by monopolizing seats at the FCC net neutrality hearing in Cambridge the other day aren’™t just Philly-style hijinks. The whole brouhaha is sure getting a lot of press, though, and Comcast is getting the short end of it. Let’™s give a little background.

The FCC planned a hearing at Harvard on the issue of net neutrality. They planned it for a room that held 290 people, and Comcast paid people off the streets to take seats in the front rows. Petty tactic, but Comcast is claiming the guys off the streets were saving seats for Comcast employees, a claim that would work if the Comcast employees actually showed up to replace the shills off the streets who slept through the meeting. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Attention was called to Comcast’™s tactic by Free Press officials who attended the hearing. One photographed two seat-warmers sleeping during the hearing.

‘œWe spent time educating the public about the event and the issue,’ said Free Press spokeswoman Jen Howard, ‘œand we did not have to pay anyone to attend.’

Bracy, of the Berkman Center, said the group of seat-warmers caught her attention when she showed up at the Ames Courtroom at 7:15 a.m. Monday to prepare for the hearing.

About 35 people – mostly men dressed in jeans and baseball caps and one in a camouflage jacket – were parked in the first three rows of the auditorium drinking coffee and reading the Boston Globe, she said.

They were ‘œregular Joes’ who looked like they could have come from Dunkin’™ Donuts, Bracy said. She was surprised to find them there several hours before the late-morning event. ‘œI thought, great, we’™re reaching out to new communities.’

But Bracy’™s suspicions of the Internet activists grew when none of them appeared to know about wireless Internet capabilities and two in the front row fell asleep during the hearing.

Why would Comcast do such a thing. OK, I know net neutrality is a contentious issue, and I know that Comcast is the wrong side of it, but I’™m no expert on the issue. Indeed, I’™ve always wondered why net usage hasn’™t, at least somewhat, been priced by bandwidth usage. Comcast sure would love that, wouldn’™t they? No, I’™m not all that up on the issue of net neutrality, so this article isn’™t about that subject, really. If you want to read about net neutrality, go check out the wikipedia article, or go to savetheinternet.com. No, I won’™t talk much about net neutrality. I’™ll write here about Comcast, their dirty little tricks, how they were incompetent at pulling those dirty tricks off, and how now they’™re going to have to go into the belly of the beast, Silicon Valley, and argue their case. Of course, the Comcast story here probably starts with David Cohen.

David Cohen has a big rep here in Philly. He was a monster presence at Ballard Spahr, a large national law firm with its headquarters here in Philly. During the 90′™s David Cohen worked for the Ed Rendell Mayoral Administration here in the city as Chief of Staff. I remember hearing a speech David Cohen gave to the local American Red Cross chapter about ten years ago. He had the wife and kids up on the stage, and he told a story that is also told in Buzz Bissinger’™s book ‘œA Prayer for the City,’ a moving look at the challenges the Ed Rendell administration faced in Philly in the 90′™s. The story was of an officer who had been shot, and of the intimate exchange that happened at the hospital between Mayor Rendell and the young son of the officer who died. No, not a dry eye in the house. To me, David Cohen will always be the man who told that story and moved me, though he is also now the Executive Vice President of Comcast, a company that has long thrown its monopolistic weight around here in the Philly area and across the country.

I’™m not a Comcast fan. When I first lived in Philly I paid for their services, which went up and up and up seemingly every year. They had no competition, so they charged whatever they pleased, or so it seemed. Heck, that’™s why I’™m with Direct TV now. But I’™ve been a David Cohen fan in the past. And this silly stunt Comcast pulled at the hearing in Cambridge is not something I would expect of Cohen. It is not that I think Cohen is above playing a little hardball on the issues that effect his company. It is that David Cohen has never been so clumsy and incompetent as Comcast has shown themselves with this incident. Let’™s make sure to focus on the issue. One of Comcast’™s most important tasks is to LOOK like it is a good corporate citizen, even if it is on the wrong side of such a populist issue as net neutrality. Comcast’™s tactics blew that fiction apart. Indeed, Comcast will be rewarded with that with a hearing at Stanford, a place where Comcast critics are sure to have a crowd far more energized than the one in Cambridge.

Yeah, Comcast screwed up trying to protect David Cohen by filling the front rows of the auditorium in Cambridge with docile bodies of shills off the street. They should have left well enough alone, for they’™ve gotten bad publicity and an even worse forum, from their viewpoint, for the next hearing. This is simple incompetence on the scale of a George Bush. David Cohen used to be a Democrat, but I’™m beginning to wonder given this incompetent performance.

Sunday, July 31st, 2011 by Richard Blair |

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