Nothing Personal? Opposition to Gigi Sohn‘s (or Perhaps Any Dem‘s) FCC Confirmation Builds

FCC nominee Gigi Sohn at Senate confirmation hearing
FCC nominee Gigi Sohn at Senate confirmation hearing. (Image credit: C-SPAN)

The long knives appear to be out for the nomination of Gigi Sohn, the former head of Public Knowledge and one-time counselor to former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, to the open Democratic seat on the FCC.

That FCC majority will be key to potential reregulation of the broadcast and broadband/cable industries that is expected under a Democratic administration.

Sohn's nomination hearing last month had gone more smoothly than expected, even with some of the Republicans expected to push back harder on her progressive positions or her tweets critical of Fox News Channel.

But since then, her nomination has failed to get a vote in the Senate Commerce Committee, though chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has said she wants to do so by month’s end. And with no action on her nomination last year, the President had to renominate her at the beginning of this one, though a new nomination hearing is not required.

Sohn was a cheerleader for Title II-based net neutrality rules, which does not endear her to internet service providers, and was a board member of Locast, which does not endear her to the broadcast networks. Locast had to shutter after a court concluded its model of streaming TV station signals without permission or payment was not covered under a non-commercial carveout from copyright protections, a suit brought by the networks.

But Sohn has already promised to recuse herself from any matter dealing with Locast parent Sports Fan Coalition NY, Inc. unless an agency designee affirmatively decides that the government's interest in her participation outweighs concerns about impartiality and authorizes her to do so.

And at her hearing, she indicated she would be no slam dunk for the vague "general conduct standard" in the old net neutrality rules which was arguably one of the biggest issues for ISPs who said they could support rules against blocking and throttling and anticompetitive paid prioritization, so long as it was not under Title II. She also sang the praises of local broadcasting.

While her defense of fair-use carveouts from copyright as head of Public Knowledge put her at odds with big Hollywood players at times, as did the Locast connection, it got her plaudits from the consumer electronics industry. She did support a compromise approach to protecting copyright online and she has backed independent programmers‘ access to distribution platforms.

Frankly, whoever gets the seat is likely to support net neutrality rules and perhaps some reregulation of broadcasters, so the end game for Republicans and some media companies now may be to slow-roll the process of seating ANY third Democrat to the current politically tied — 2 to 2 — commission as long as possible.

Protocol was reporting that Comcast had hired a lobbyist to work against Sohn's nomination. The company did not respond to a request for comment on that story, though it did change the “specific issues” portion of its lobbying disclosure form for Kirk Adams of Consilium Consulting from “FCC nominations” to “telecommunications policy.”

It is already more than a year since the FCC has been at 2-2, only able to do the things Democrats and Republicans can agree on. ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.