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FCC Pick Sohn Defends Her Ties to Locast Under GOP Hearing Fire

Dec. 1, 2021, 10:04 PM

Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn defended her connection to a now-defunct nonprofit, a day after a GOP senator asked President Joe Biden to withdraw her nomination.

Sohn’s decision-making at the agency would not be impacted by her time serving on the board of the nonprofit, Locast, she told lawmakers during her Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing.

Locast’s services were in the best interest of consumers, especially those who identify as low-income, who could not afford programming, Sohn said. That view, however, would not impact her treatment as a regulator of the networks who sued the nonprofit, she added.

“I don’t have any problem with them. I have no hard feelings,” Sohn said in response to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “Just because they sued Locast, that wouldn’t impair my decisions as a policymaker.”

Litigation against Locast for allegedly streaming television illegally resulted in a $32 million loss and its shutdown.

Withdrawal Request

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) sent a letter Tuesday night to Biden calling for the withdrawal of her nomination because of her time on the board.

It’s unclear whether there’s enough Senate opposition to Sohn to derail her nomination. Tillis Wednesday said he hoped his request to Biden to withdraw Sohn gained traction.

“You take a look at a threat to creators—just with her track record—I think it’s extraordinary,” Tillis said. “I find it unimaginable that that’s the best person they could find for the role.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he had not seen Tillis’ letter, but he supports withdrawing Sohn’s nomination.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) told Sohn during the hearing her views on protecting content were inconsistent.

“Despite your talk about valuing content, it seems like you’re not being consistent in your value of protecting intellectual property of creators and, as you know, retransmission is an issue that has been debated, and we’re going to continue this conversation about protecting content,” Blackburn said.

Locast, a nonprofit streaming television service, in 2019 was sued by ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox for allegedly capturing and retransmitting their broadcast signals without paying fees. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in October officially shut down Locast.

The National Association of Broadcasters has also expressed concern about Sohn’s time on the board of Locast.

Sohn also attempted to make a distinction between her actions as a public interest activist and how she would behave if confirmed to the commission.

Sohn said she would set biases aside, look at the totality of the record, and confer with FCC colleagues, staff, and Congress in the role.

—Samantha Handler contributed to this report.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kibkabe Araya at karaya@bloombergindustry.com; Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com