Comcast Accused of Falsely Taking Hearing Seats

By Mark Jewell
Associated Press
Thursday, February 28, 2008

The organizer of a federal hearing Monday at Harvard Law School on Comcast's treatment of subscriber Internet traffic said yesterday that "seat-warmers" hired by the company prevented other people from attending.

Comcast acknowledged that it hired an unspecified number of people to fill seats, but said those people gave up their spots when Comcast employees arrived to take their places.

Catherine Bracy, administrative manager of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, disputed that assertion, saying most of the three dozen seat-warmers who arrived hours before the Federal Communications Commission hearing remained during the event's opening hours, as many other people were turned away.

"No employees came in to take those seats when the event started," Bracy said.

The hearing was held in response to complaints to the FCC that Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, hampered file-sharing traffic on its Internet service. The company has said that its traffic management practices are necessary to keep other Internet traffic flowing smoothly.

Comcast said it hired seat-holders only after the advocacy group Free Press urged its backers to attend. "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," the company said in a written statement.

A Comcast spokeswoman declined to comment yesterday on Bracy's statements.

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