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FCC Pick Sohn’s Locast Ties Spur GOP Senator to Seek New Hearing

Jan. 18, 2022, 8:08 PM

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Republican staffers have asked chair Maria Cantwell for a new hearing on Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn.

Staff reached out to Cantwell (D-Wash.) Tuesday after ranking member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) expressed concerns over Sohn’s ties to Locast, a streaming television service provider, a spokesperson said.

ABC Inc., CBS Corp., NBCUniversal Media, LLC, and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. in 2019 sued Locast for streaming their programming without paying fees. That litigation in October resulted in a $32 million settlement, which led to the nonprofit shutting down. Sohn served on the board of Sports Fan Coalition, which Locast operated under.

A spokesperson for committee Democrats declined to comment.

Wicker’s staff last week obtained the confidential settlement between Locast and broadcasters.

“My initial review of the confidential settlement raises several troubling questions about Ms. Sohn’s nomination,” Wicker said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

“The possibility of the nominee’s future financial liability to a number of companies regulated by the FCC, and the timing of this settlement in relation to her nomination, demands a full discussion by the committee to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the ability for this nominee to act without any cloud of ethical doubt,” Wicker added.

During her Dec. 1 confirmation hearing, Sohn said her decision-making at the FCC, which regulates broadcasters, would not be impacted by her time at Locast.

Internet and Competitive Networks Association CEO Chip Pickering, a former GOP representative from Mississippi, said FCC chairs in the past have had industry ties and were still effective regulators.

Before serving in government, former GOP FCC chair Ajit Pai was an in-house counsel for Verizon Communications Inc. and former Democratic FCC chair Tom Wheeler was president and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, Pickering noted.

“Both were extremely efficient, independent and had integrity. Gigi will be the same,” he added.

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

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