A View From Outside the Hearing

I want to take a moment and step back from all the news about the Boston FCC hearing that has emerged over the past 24 hours. In cases such as these, the rhetoric can get pretty heated and accusations, assertions and interpretations can get recast, reframed, and re-imagined as the story spreads across the Web. I’ll admit, as one of the people who sat for hours at the bottom of the stairs that led up to the FCC hearing, that it’s exciting to see the coverage of Comcast’s underhanded techniques. But in the back-and-forth, it’s easy to fixate on some minor detail of the story, picking apart Comcast’s statement or over-analyzing on-the-ground accounts.

Where is the public? One Citizen Waits to Get In

Details are important, but let’s not lose sight of the forest for the trees. What happened on Monday at Harvard was a simple case of one big corporation using its financial resources to marginalize the public from the policymaking process. When Comcast notes in their public statement that in the week leading up to the hearing “Free Press has engaged in a much more extensive campaign to lobby people to attend the hearing on its behalf,” they acknowledge that their efforts to fill the room were designed to push the public out of the picture.

It’s true, we worked tirelessly over the past week to educate Boston area residents about the hearing, the issues, and their rights – and we encouraged people from around New England to attend – but not on our behalf. We didn’t pay anyone to be there. We didn’t drive them there. We just asked them to show up and speak out. Working hard to engage local communities in the policymaking process is the exact opposite of paying people to fill seats on the day of the event.

We worked with local youth organizations, consumer groups, bloggers, student clubs, and community TV stations to explain the importance of this issue and ask for their support. Journalism professors sent their students to cover the event, but the students couldn’t get in the door. Working people took time off just to come watch the hearing, but got shut out. Again, none of these people were being paid to be there – they were there because they care about this issue, because they wanted to learn more, because they wanted a place at the table.

In the basement listening to the FCC hearing Citizens crowd around public computers in the basement of Ames Hall

As the room filled and the doors closed, I gave up my seat so that others could be in the room. Unlike Comcast, a few other Free Press staff and I sat in the hallway with many concerned citizens for hours hoping to be let in. Some of us convened down in the basement of the building, huddling around a public computer listening to the FCC webcast of the event going on just three stories above us.

Regardless of how they spin it or what justifications they offer, Comcast’s actions were simply wrong. They owe the people of Boston an apology.

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