The third time might be the charm for Gigi Sohn, nominated by President Joe Biden for the fifth slot on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Sen. Maria Cantrell is holding yet another confirmation hearing for Sohn Tuesday.
Sohn acknowledges just a bit of frustration in her planned opening statement: “Today, at my 3rd confirmation hearing, 15 months after I was nominated, I’d like to answer a question that I know is on the minds of many on the dais and in this room: Why am I still President Biden’s nominee for the 5th seat on the FCC?” Here’s why, from the first nomination announcement: “For over thirty years, Gigi has worked to defend and preserve the fundamental competition and innovation policies that have made broadband Internet access more ubiquitous, competitive, affordable, open, and protective of user privacy.”
The more salient question might be why it’s taken 15 months. Sohn also addresses that in her statement. “I believe deeply that regulated entities should not choose their regulator. Unfortunately, that is the exact intent of the past 15 months of false and misleading attacks on my record and my character,” she says in her testimony. “My industry opponents have hidden behind dark money groups and surrogates because they fear a pragmatic, pro-competition, pro-consumer policymaker who will support policies that will bring more, faster, and lower-priced broadband and new voices to your constituents,” she continued.
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That’s all hanging out there in an editorial in The Wall Street Journal. “Watch Out, Gigi Sohn Is Back,” reads the headline. “Biden renominates the left-wing activist, who would turn the FCC into a political bludgeon.” They go through a bunch of well-trodden accusations about how she’s a champion of net neutrality and thus has “left-wing views and desire for political control of the airwaves.” (They stay away from the homophobic and disgusting smear that other right-wing outlets have pursued. Sohn is openly and unapologetically gay.)
Here’s the meat of it, with The Wall Street Journal acting as mouthpiece for industry: “Democrats snuck a provision into the infrastructure bill that requires the FCC to issue rules to prevent ‘digital discrimination of access based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin’ and identify ‘necessary steps’ to eliminate this discrimination.” Without five commissioners on the FCC, the agency is deadlocked and can’t write and enforce those rules. Big telecom doesn’t want to spend any money ensuring that underserved communities have access because that’s not where the profit lies.
“I believe it is critical for at least one member of the FCC to be a consumer advocate who has spent a career not beholden to any interest but that of the public,” Sohn says in her statement, confirming big telecom’s worst fear. “I’ve certainly worked with industry towards common goals and many in industry are among the over 400 groups that support my confirmation, but my roots and my heart are with the everyday Americans the FCC by law is tasked to serve.”
The Commerce Committee has approved the nomination twice already, but some of the more corporate-friendly Democrats—Kyrsten Sinema (now independent), Joe Manchin, Catherine Cortez Masto, and Mark Kelly—have been shaky on confirming her on the floor. Now that there are 51 Democrats and Cortez Masto and Kelly just won reelection, this third effort might be successful. Certainly, the Democrats should be unified in rejecting the disgusting smear campaign.
Speaking of ugly smears, the opposition on the committee will be led by Sen. Ted Cruz. “Given the way FCC decisions can impact what we watch, read, and ultimately think, the FCC is a dangerous place for a radical who has suggested the government should censor Americans who hold views contrary to her own,” Cruz said in a statement to Fox News.
Of course she has never suggested that, in fact her decades of consumer advocacy have centered on the exact opposition: ensuring freedom of expression. Two executives from the most conservative news networks, Newsmax and One America News Network, attested to that in statements from 2021. OANN President Charles Herring said, “I’ve fought in the trenches side-by-side with Gigi Sohn for a number of years on multiple issues. I’m fully aware of Gigi’s personal views, yet I’m even more knowledgeable on her strong belief and advocacy for diversity in the programming lineup, especially in news, regardless of conflicts with her personal views.”
Bradley Blakeman, former assistant and director of scheduling for former President George W. Bush, wrote an op-ed in Newsmax, saying: “I know Gigi. I have worked with Gigi. And I have seen her fight for people’s right to express themselves, even when she disagrees with them.” He added, “I trust Gigi to get it right when it comes to protecting my free speech.”
The Senate ran out of time last session to wrap this confirmation up. Now it’s time to get it done. “There are too many important issues in front of the Commission to lack a full complement of members, including improving the broadband maps, fixing the Universal Service Fund, closing the Homework Gap, ensuring fair access to broadband, and protecting consumers’ privacy,” Sohn says in her statement. “Americans deserve a full FCC where I could play a critical role in addressing every one of these, but time is of the essence.”
We're chatting with one of our favorite fellow election analysts on The Downballot, Kyle Kondik of Sabato's Crystal Ball. Kyle helped call races last year for CBS and gives us a rare window inside a TV network's election night decision desk, which literally has a big button to call control of the House—that no one got to press. Kyle also dives into his new race ratings for the 2024 Senate map, including why he thinks Joe Manchin's unlikely tight-rope act might finally come to an end.