WATCH: Anti-Comcast Activists Disrupt Penn Trustees Meeting
[Updated with David Cohen comment on FCC vote.]
Anti-Comcast student activists disrupted a meeting of the Penn Board of Trustees this morning, protesting the company’s stance on net neutrality and its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable.
They took video of the event, in which they unfurled a banner emblazoned with the hashtag #Don’tBlockMyInternet:
“Students demanded that Comcast stop its advocacy and lobbying against Title II net neutrality at both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and in Congress,” the activists, who are working with Philadelphia’s Media Mobilizing Project, said in a press release. “They also spoke out against Comcast’s push to merge with its biggest competitor, Time Warner Cable.” About a dozen students participated.
One problem: David Cohen — Comcast’s executive vice president and chairman of Penn’s board — wasn’t there to see the protest directed at him. According to the video, however, the meeting was adjourned rather than have trustees persist in the face of the disruption.
Penn officials said that the meeting resumed after the protesters departed. Comcast has said that it favors an “open Internet,” but not through the Title II mechanism, which reclassified Internet broadband service as a regulated utility. And it asserts that Time Warner Cable, which offers cable TV services in different territories than Comcast, is not technically a competitor and thus is not reducing competition in the industry.
The protest came on the same day the Federal Communications Commission approved net neutrality rules.
“We fully embrace the open Internet principles that have been laid out by President Obama and Chairman Wheeler and that now have been adopted by the FCC,” Cohen said in a blog post after the vote. “We just don’t believe statutory provisions designed for the telephone industry and adopted when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president should be stretched to govern the 21st century Internet.”
Neither he nor Comcast commented directly on the Penn protest.
This morning’s protest is the second major disruption to a campus event in recent months. In December, student protesters held a “die-in” at the holiday party of Amy Gutmann, Penn’s president. Gutmann was later criticized for joining the protesters in the action, which was held during the height of post-Ferguson demonstrations.
Protesters in December and at today’s meeting both said that Penn — a tax-exempt institution — should provide more resources to the city of Philadelphia.
The full statement from the activists, below:
Where is Comcast’s David Cohen Hiding? Video shows student activists demanding Comcast stop lobbying against Title II net neutrality
PHILADELPHIA – Today, at the opening session of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) Board of Trustees Winter Full Board Meeting, more than a dozen Penn students conducted a direct action aimed at David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President of the Comcast Corporation, and Chairman of the Penn Board of Trustees.
Captured on video, students interrupted the meeting, dropping a banner that read #Don’tBlockMyInternet, in front of the Penn trustees in attendance. Students demanded that Comcast stop its advocacy and lobbying against Title II net neutrality at both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and in Congress; they also spoke out against Comcast’s push to merge with its biggest competitor, Time Warner Cable. They challenged David Cohen for missing the meeting, prioritizing his efforts to advance Comcast’s agenda over the public interest.
The video above shows visibly uncomfortable Penn trustees, directly facing representatives of the over 4 million people who have pushed the FCC to protect the Internet by reclassifying it as a communications service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Students also held a banner opposing the Comcast-Time Warner Cable proposed merger, and called for Comcast and Penn to both pay their fair share in resources to Philadelphia, the poorest big city in the United States.
Comcast, headquartered in Philadelphia, has been a forceful opponent of net neutrality, spending tens of millions[i] in the past year to block the FCC from protecting consumers from discrimination online. After the FCC vote this morning in favor of strong Title II net neutrality, large telecommunications companies like Comcast are immediately turning their attention to Congress in an attempt to overturn the rules protecting American consumers.
“Without a strong open Internet, our future as students, leaders, and communities is under dire threat,” said Levi Gikandi, who organized the protest with dozens of other students at the Penn Board of Trustees meeting today. “As University of Pennsylvania students, we believe it is our duty to remind David Cohen, as Chair of our Board of Trustees and Executive Vice President of Comcast, to protect our futures. Both Comcast and Penn have a responsibility to the Philadelphia community and the world. But instead of facing us, Cohen is likely in Washington today, trying to undermine our right to communicate. With a net neutrality victory for the people imminent at the FCC, we came out today to send him a message to do the right thing – don’t block our internet.”
“Over 5000 Philadelphians, including these student leaders at Penn, have contacted us, asking how we can make sure Comcast is accountable to its home city and the entire country,” said Bryan Mercer, co-executive director of Media Mobilizing Project, a longtime leader in local and national movements for media justice, and an anchor member of Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net). “With these student leaders bringing #Don’tBlockMyInternet to Comcast’s David Cohen, we hope he and his colleagues see that Title II net neutrality, no Comcast-Time Warner monopoly, and Comcast accountability at home is the path they should take forward if they want to succeed for the next generation.”
The Penn students researched Comcast and its positions on net neutrality, the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, and Comcast’s record in Philadelphia by contacting the West Philadelphia based Media Mobilizing Project. Media Mobilizing Project works to connect poor and working people through media and communications, and has an almost 10-year history of fighting for communications rights in Philadelphia and beyond.
The action was part of a series of #Don’tBlockMyInternet events that happened across the country from the Bay Area and New York to Illinois and New Mexico.