Could Krysten Sinema Kill Net Neutrality?

November 19, 2021 | by Andrew Regitsky

Could Krysten Sinema Kill Net Neutrality?

Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema is a thorn in Joe Biden’s side. She, along with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin have opposed his Build Back Better proposal because of the massive price tag, and now she may also oppose his new FCC pick Gigi Sohn because Sohn supports Title II classification for broadband Internet access to restore net neutrality for ISPs.

As we discussed previously, Sohn believes that the FCC should have total price control over all Internet services, and therefore, would reinstate Title II utility-like regulation. Predictably most, if not all Republicans will oppose her nomination. For example, Sen. Lindsay Graham tweeted on November 9th,

Gigi Sohn is a complete political ideologue who has disdain for conservatives. She would be a complete nightmare for the country when it comes to regulating the public airwaves.  I will do everything in my power to convince colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reject this extreme nominee.

Graham was seconded by the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board, which wrote November 8th,

Ms. Sohn’s strident partisanship should disqualify her from serving as an officer of an independent agency with so much power to control the public airwaves. There’s also a risk that the President could designate her as Chair after she’s confirmed, as he did with the radical Lina Khan on the Federal Trade Commission.

Also predictably, most Democrats are praising Sohn, with the notable exception of Sinema. Her support is problematic because of her previous opposition to Title II regulation for ISPs. Following the Trump FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order, Democrats in Congress attempted to pass a law that would restore and codify the 2015 Open Internet Order which mandated net neutrality. The Save the Internet Act was supported in the House of Representatives in April 2019 but stalled in the Senate partially because of Sinema’s opposition to Title II.

Instead, Sinema announced that she and Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi had established a working group to reach a bipartisan solution to net neutrality. She stated,

Net neutrality is critical to maintaining a vibrant internet. We need a modern, internet-specific framework that encourages the freedom and innovation that make the internet the vital tool it is today—and consumers and providers need stability. We will only achieve those goals by working across party lines to find a bipartisan solution.(March 13, 2019, Statement of Krysten Sinema).

Sinema was echoed by Wicker:

The mission of this working group will be to put partisan politics aside in order to provide permanent internet protections. We need clear rules of the road that prohibit providers from blocking or throttling access to lawful content and provide transparency and consumer choice. We invite our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us in this effort. (March 13, 2019, Statement of Roger Wicker).

It's been two years and this working group accomplished nothing. We do know that both Wicket and Sinema are against Title II regulations. For example, in 2019 Wicker told Incompas:

Can we agree that we’re all for an open internet? I hope we can agree that we don’t need rate control by the federal government, and that’s what bothers a lot of us on the Title II thing. But to the extent that we could pass something that didn’t have rate regulation, that didn’t have Title II regulation, and gives the light-touch approach that balances proper regulatory oversight with broadband internet, and doesn’t allow the blocking and throttling, but keeps a climate where the technological innovation that has really transformed a generation can continue… I hope we can do that.

Sinema agreed and told the Daily Dot online site that she does not believe “regulation under something like Title II of the Communications Act is the right way to regulate the Internet.” If Sinema continues to hold to this belief than the nomination of Gigi Sohn is doomed in the Commerce Committee. Her hearing was supposed to be this week, but it was delayed indefinitely. Meanwhile, the hearing for Jessica Rosenworcel went well and she is poised to be the permanent FCC Chairwoman. If Sohn’s nomination fails or is pulled by Biden, we could continue to have a 2-2 FCC for months.