FCC Nominee Gigi Sohn Gets Pushback from Some Former Hill Democrats

Gigi Sohn
Democratic FCC nominee Gigi Sohn (Image credit: C-SPAN)

Some former Democratic members of Congress have joined what is increasingly a concerted effort to block the nomination of Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden‘s nominee to the open Democratic seat on the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC presently stands at a 2-2 political tie, as it has been since before Biden took office.

A group called The One Country Project (OCP) said it has launched a six-figure ad campaign meant to “ensure that the FCC prioritizes rural broadband expansion and communities,” but in the next sentence defines the campaign as “aimed at raising awareness that the Biden administration’s [FCC] nominee, Gigi Sohn, is the wrong choice for the FCC and rural America.”

Sohn‘s nomination was not reported favorably out of the Senate Commerce Committee — it was a tie vote — and must be discharged from the committee by a full Senate vote before she can get a confirmation vote.

Some Industry Groups Urge Senate to Confirm Sohn

Among the project's leadership team are OCP founder Heidi Heitkamp, the former Democratic senator from North Dakota, and former Rep. Mike Espy, a Democrat and the first African-American elected from Mississippi since reconstruction.

“Given the significant progress that has been made in closing the rural digital divide in recent years, and all the important work that remains to fully close the gap, Gigi Sohn’s deeply cynical view of rural broadband is far less than what rural Americans need or deserve,“ Heitkamp said of the new ad campaign.

That view is not shared by a number of current high-profile Democratic legislators, including the leadership of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Senate Commerce Committee, who all strongly back Sohn.

Republicans and some opponents of broadband regulations have already been pushing back hard. They cite Sohn‘s support of network neutrality rules while in the public interest sector and at the FCC, where she was a top aide to Obama-era chairman Tom Wheeler, as well as her criticism of Fox News Channel on social media.

Others, like OCP, have latched on to comments she made in congressional testimony about policymakers focusing “disproportionately on broadband deployment in rural areas,” although that was by way of saying that urban area deficits — where affordability in lower-income areas is of concern — also deserve attention.

Also: Democrats Call for Seating Sohn at FCC

And while the project may have issues with Sohn on rural issues, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, does not. Back in January, NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield urged Congress to confirm Sohn, saying she was someone her association could work with on crucial issues such as closing the digital divide and the related issue of better mapping of broadband availability.

Sohn also has the backing of the Consumer Technology Association, which was allied with her on fair-use issues during her time atop Public Knowledge.

Sohn fans see the pushback on her nomination as part of a larger effort to keep the FCC from the Democratic majority that will allow it to take action on partisan issues, such as new network neutrality rules or media ownership regulations.

Similarly, the Federal Trade Commission is at a 2-2 tie, with Biden's nominee for the fifth Democratic seat, Alvaro Bedoya, getting similar pushback from Republicans and some in the computer industry over his criticism of Big Tech and its perceived anti-competitive conduct. ■

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.