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FCC Nominee Sohn Says Her Opponents Aim to Hamstring Agency

Feb. 9, 2022, 3:00 PM

Opposition to President Joe Biden’s pick for the Federal Communications Commission is rooted in a desire to deny Democrats a majority of agency seats, the nominee, Gigi Sohn, said in prepared testimony for a Senate committee hearing Wednesday.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is holding a second confirmation hearing for Sohn, who was initially nominated late last year, at the request of ranking member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). Wicker and other Senate Republicans have voiced concerns about Sohn’s record, including her service on the board of a now-defunct streaming service.

Sohn said in prepared remarks for the hearing that she has “been subject to unrelenting, unfair, and outright false criticism and scrutiny.”

“At the same time, I realize that this isn’t all about me,” Sohn said in her prepared statement. “It’s about some wanting to stop the FCC from doing its important work ensuring that everyone in America has robust broadband regardless of who they are, what their income is or where they live, as mandated by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”

“It’s about stopping the FCC from ensuring that the media is diverse and serves the needs of local communities. It’s about stopping the FCC from ensuring that our networks are resilient when the next disaster hits so that the public stays connected and safe,” Sohn added.

The FCC has operated without a Democratic majority since President Joe Biden took office, preventing Democrats from pursuing policies such as restoring net neutrality rules for broadband providers that the GOP-controlled agency scrapped.

“A deadlocked agency helps almost nobody, save for a few huge corporations. But most importantly, it hurts the American people who need the FCC to make hard decisions,” Sohn said.

Wicker has taken issue with Sohn’s tenure as a board member of Locast, a nonprofit that was found guilty of illegally streaming programming and ordered to shut down. Wicker questioned the extent of Sohn’s liability under Locast’s settlement with major broadcasters. But Sohn is not individually liable under the terms of the agreement.

“As press reports have made clear, I have no financial liability stemming from the lawsuit and indeed, I never did from the day I joined the Sports Fans Coalition, NY (SFCNY) Board,” Sohn’s said, referring to the company under which Locast operated.

Sohn said she did not personally negotiate the settlement and was not authorized to discuss the terms of the agreement in writing. SFCNY negotiated the deal “with the full and eager consent” of the broadcasters, Sohn said.

The National Association of Broadcasters also expressed concern with Sohn’s time at Locast but have said their concerns were satisfied after Sohn agreed to a narrow, temporary recusal from the two relevant issues at play: retransmission and broadcast copyrights.

The recusal does not open the door for other industries seeking a recusal for the positions Sohn has advocated, she said.

“Such a result would be perverse, and probably would prohibit anyone -- not just public interest advocates and academics – who has taken any public position on telecommunications and media policy from serving on the FCC,” Sohn said in her prepared remarks.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maria Curi at mcuri@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com