Biden FCC nominee faces rocky confirmation vote

Nominations for the Federal Communications Commission typically draw little attention. President Joe Biden’s nomination of Gigi Sohn has managed to put a spotlight on the post. 

Gigi Sohn is a University of Pennsylvania educated lawyer who founded Public Knowledge, a “leading communications and intellectual property policy organization.” She has a reputation for going to bat against broadcasters and telecom companies as a ferocious advocate for further federal regulation.

She notably backs “net neutrality” regulations which would apply “common carrier” regulations to broadband networks. This means that internet providers would be treated as public utilities, subjecting them to a litany of new regulations under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has argued that such regulatory treatment “could thwart broadband innovation and investment.”

Sohn’s nomination has faced scrutiny in recent weeks as the Senate Commerce Committee has moved to vote on her nomination this week.

Business conflicts

Sohn served on the three-member board of Locast, a nonprofit that streamed and broadcasted local signals without permission. The company faced litigation and a federal judge ordered the company to pay plaintiffs $32 million in damages late last year.

In her testimony to the committee, Sohn claimed that the $32 million had been paid out by the nonprofit that operated Locast. But the company’s tax documents showed that the organization only had around $800,000 in funds and assets at the end of 2020.

Sohn refused to release details from the settlement to the committee.

Reporting from Bloomberg Law revealed that one day after Biden nominated Sohn to the FCC, the plaintiffs decided to settle for $700,000 rather than the $32 million. Sohn did not mention this fact during her hearing, refusing to correct the committee’s ranking member when he asked her about the $32 million in damages.

Sohn recused herself on January 27th from certain broadcasting matters to assuage concerns about her nomination, but some remain unconvinced.

Now, the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is calling for another hearing to clarify Sohn’s account of the facts.

Republicans seek another hearing

Wicker has called for another hearing with Sohn, citing what he views as “discrepancies” in her previous testimony and record.

Despite the call for another hearing that might clarify some concerns that senators have, the Democrat-controlled committee has maintained February 2 as the date of the committee vote.

Group targets Sinema with billboard campaign

In 2019, Fight for the Future, an advocacy group, coordinated with the Sohn-founded Public Knowledge to lobby members of Congress to support net neutrality legislation. Fight for the Future posted a billboard in Arizona calling on Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D, to support net neutrality.

Sohn “absolutely had a hand in that billboard ad,” according to a source who works in the non-profit community in Washington, DC.

At the time, a Sinema aide told the Arizona Mirror that net neutrality regulations could have “serious unintended consequences.”

Now, Fight for the Future is pushing for Sohn’s nomination. The organization’s director said that, “Fight for the Future offers an enthusiastic ‘hell yeah’ at the news that Gigi Sohn will be nominated as the 5th commissioner of the FCC…”

Democrat Senators Jon Tester, Mont., and Jacky Rosen, Nev., showed some hesitancy to support Sohn’s nomination, but have ultimately signaled that they are “yes” votes. Sen. Sinema has yet to announce a position on Sohn’s nomination.

The head of Fight for the Future expressed optimism in the nomination, however, noting that “Sinema has not blocked other Biden nominees and doubts that she would move to scuttle Sohn.”

Joe Pitts

Joe Pitts is a born and bred Arizonan who formerly served as the program director at the Arizona Chamber Foundation. He graduated Arizona State University's Barrett, the Honors College in 2023 with a B.S. in Management and concurrent B.S. in Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership.

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