Potential New FCC Commissioner Withering on the Vine

June 9, 2022 | by Andrew Regitsky

Potential New FCC Commissioner Withering on the Vine

Eight months ago, President Joe Biden nominated Gigi Sohn to be the fifth FCC commissioner and third Democrat, finally breaking the two-two tie that had stymied the return of net neutrality and other stronger broadband controls. The president was historically slow in nominating Sohn and for some reason inexplicably selected a person with an extremely controversial history. For example, in 2020 she tweeted:

For all my concerns about Facebook, I believe that Fox News has had the most negative impact on our democracy. It's state-sponsored propaganda, with few if any opposing viewpoints. Where's the hearing about that? (Gigi Sohn, October 28, 2020, Tweet.)

Similarly, on November 6, 2020, she tweeted:

So do you still want me to believe that social media is more dangerous to our democracy than Fox News?

Republicans responded to these and other comparable tweets by arguing that Sohn was too partisan for the FCC.

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. (Sen Lindsey Graham, November 9, 2021, tweet.)

The Wall Street Journal agreed and wrote in a November 8, 2021, editorial:

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.

Sohn also drew opposition from such disparate sources as the broadcast industry for her role as a board member of Locast, a short-lived streaming service which illegally pirated over-the-air broadcasts from the tv networks and provided them at a nominal fee to the public and the Fraternal Order of Police for her views on encryption which would stymie police investigations.

All this opposition would not matter in the least if Sohn had the support of all 50 Democratic senators. Apparently, she does not. Axios reports that “there are still efforts behind the scenes to court moderate Democrats, but Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) remains undecided, his office said, and Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) is still evaluating her nomination.” Moreover, Sen Krysten Simina (D-Ariz) has been a consistent critic of net neutrality and she has given no indication that she would support Sohn. Even the former Democratic senator from North Dakota Heidi Heitkamp recently wrote in March:

How can Democrats support rural broadband expansion and also support Gigi Sohn? Sohn, the Biden Administration’s nominee for FCC Commissioner, has made numerous public statements that call into question whether she will work to bring broadband to all rural Americans expeditiously... Senate Democrats should decide that enough is enough and ask President Biden to choose a new nominee for the FCC — one that can advance their agenda without these extremist tactics. Sohn is a mixed message at best and will obliterate any Democrats hope they will get credit for broadband wins. (One Country Project, March 2, 2022, online.).

Time is running out for Sohn. Congress will soon go on summer recess, not returning to the fall. At that time, presumably this nomination will fall by the wayside. With the war in Ukraine and the problems in the economy, including high gas prices and continued inflation, Sohn will probably become an afterthought. That’s not even considering the coming election in November, in which senators up for reelection will certainly be most concerned about that.

There also doesn’t seem to be enough time to nominate a new FCC candidate as that person would have to go through a thorough vetting process before the senate could even consider the nomination. Axios believes that Sohn’s issues point to a greater pattern of dysfunction in the Biden administration's inability to get executive-level positions confirmed by a Senate with a razor-thin Democratic majority. But the question we have is why did Biden nominate Sohn in the first place? He could have easily chosen a person with similar views on net neutrality and broadband price controls without the Sohn baggage. If the Republicans win the Senate in November, Democrats may have to settle for a more moderate FCC commissioner, one more friendly to ISPs and the free market. This whole fiasco is an epic failure for the Biden administration and a blow to consumer advocates.