What we are up against

My friend Rick put me on to this article about Comcast paying money to have people “save seats” during a regulatory meeting about net neutrality.

You probably know what net neutrality is, but just in case you don’t.  If you are connected to the internet (you are reading this right?), there is a company (Internet Service Provider, or ISP) that is being paid for that connection.  These ISPs that you are paying (or someone else is paying), are providing a service, the question is how that service should be delivered.

Net neutrality means that you are paying for a pipeline (or tubes if you are Senator Ted Stevens) at a certain rate of data transfer from the ISP and that rate doesn’t change no matter what you look at.  If you look at the National Rifle Association, American Civil Liberty Union, Greenpeace, Constitution Party, or Ron Paul’s presidential candidate web site, all of these will have the same access because your pipeline is neutral to the source content (note speeds could vary because of the hosting server of the content).

If we get rid of net neutrality, the ISP, who you the consumer are paying, will be able to charge the content provider for improved access to the viewer.  So big corporations, especially media companies may decide to pay to increase the download speeds of their web content.  Little ol’ bloggers will probably not pay, and their content may be slowed down.

In reality, the content may be slowed if it is unfriendly to the corporations that control your access to the internet, not just based on financial shakedown, extortion that the ISP is charging.

So back to this meeting that started the whole thing.  So the worry that we have is that ISP will create a bottleneck for information by slowing the data transfer rate.  This might not happen, but if you look at the tactics they used in the meeting, it is same damn thing.

An official at Free Press, a nonprofit advocacy group that has criticized Comcast for limiting the amount of data some of its customers send over its network, accused the cable company of “stacking the deck” at the hearing with the 30 to 40 “seat-warmers.” An official at Harvard said dozens of real participants were left standing outside the auditorium with placards.

So they pay to have people sit in the auditorium taking up seats (the bottleneck) to limit the number of people that want to weigh in the on the issue from participating.  Man, that sounds like the concern that net neutrality advocates have on the internet.

Now if the need to monitor, or limit data transfer is so crucial to a functioning system, then that should be clear on its own merits, which I personally don’t think it is.

Comcast feared a loud and critical crowd at the hearing where executive vice president David Cohen was scheduled to testify. Comcast, which offers high-speed Internet to 48 million homes, has said it needs to manage Internet use so that a small number of customers transmitting very large video files do not clog the network for everyone.

How about a study by an independent group to demonstrate that this concen of a small number of customers will clog the network?  Show me that research, not by an industry connected group, and I will listen.

Comcast has a different idea of what a small proportion is, than me.

Comcast says the number of seat-warmers was small in proportion to the capacity of the 290-seat auditorium. There was additional standing room.

Lets say that there are 20 SRO spaces, that pushes the capacity to 310.  If the low end estimate of 35 people is used that is 11.3% of the auditorium, I think that is significant.  If they are there to just to fill space, to keep citizens out that question Comcast’s position, then that is a perfect example of how corporations try to circumvent the democratic regulatory process.  Now the article says that they may have been there to save seats for employees, but stacking the audience either with employees and warm bodies is not playing fair.

On a tagent in the reporting, this pisses me off because it strikes of elitism.

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 “regular 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. “I thought, great, we’re reaching out to new communities.”

If I attended, I would probably have the paper with me, and probably be in jeans, looking like the “regular Joes.”  When did participation in the democratic process require a certain dress code.

-Josh

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