With the News Corp.-co-owned New York Post and The Wall Street Journal opinion pages having hosted some serious criticisms of FCC-nominee-in-limbo Gigi Sohn, the New York Daily News provided some space over the weekend for the opposite view: Sohn is a good candidate who is being blocked by Republicans and lacks sufficient help from "dithering Democrats."
In Sunday’s edition, Sohn supporters Gloria Tristani, herself a former Democratic Federal Communications Commission member, and Jessica Gonzalez, co-CEO of Free Press Action, said, “All Democrats should stand up for Sohn.”
The reigning wisdom has it that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is the Democrat not yet on board with Sohn, and that if he were perhaps even a couple of Republicans might support her.
Tristani and Gonzalez pointed out that it has been 500 days since the FCC had a full complement of five commissioners.
Sohn, former adviser to then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and longtime advocate for fair use and net neutrality rules, has taken heat for various stands as a public interest advocate, backer of shuttered free broadcast streaming service, Locast, and occasional Fox News critic, resulting in a stalemate in Congress on her nomination.
Sohn‘s nomination is an historic one, as she would be the first LGBTIQ+ member of the commission.
"The power to return the FCC to full strength rests with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, but so far he’s refused to use it," Tristani and Gonzalez wrote. "That’s harming millions of people, especially working people trying to pay their rising monthly bills and those in Black, Latino and other communities long underserved by the biggest phone and cable companies."
Talk inside the Beltway is that Schumer, while supportive of Sohn, doesn't want to bring the nomination to the floor without the votes for confirmation.
Tristani and Gonzalez are particularly interested in getting Sohn on the commission so a Democratic majority can start work on non-bipartisan issues, like net neutrality rules and possibly media ownership reregulation.
"Of course, the broadcast, cable and phone companies don’t want the FCC to function, so they’ve launched a smear campaign against Sohn, misrepresenting her record repeatedly and dispatching an army of lobbyists to disparage her," they wrote.
Broadcast networks — News Corp.'s Fox is one of them — have had issues with Sohn over her support of Locast — she was a board member — which they successfully sued to shut down. A court concluded that Locast was not due the copyright carve-out it asserted in streaming TV station signals without payment or permission. As head of Public Knowledge, a big backer of fair-use copyright carveouts, Locast was right in Sohn's wheelhouse.
Cable and telecom ISPs also certainly have their own issues with any FCC effort to restore net neutrality rules.
But Tristani and Gonzalez don't let fellow Democrats off the hook, either. “Instead of confronting the dishonest attacks on their nominee, Democratic leaders have dithered and delayed,” they said. “Schumer may be reluctant to call a vote for Sohn without clear commitments from 50 senators, but a small set of holdouts won’t commit unless a vote is called. And so Sohn waits as the midterm elections inch closer, and the Democrats risk losing power in Congress.”
While prospects are dimming for Sohn given the handful of legislative days before the August recess and then the focus on midterms, one fan and former Democratic FCC official suggests all is not lost, pointing out that commissioner Nathan Simington was speedily confirmed after then-President Donald Trump pulled commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s nomination. “[T]he Republicans got Simington through very quickly; perhaps the Dems could get someone else through quickly, too,” he said.
But absent that, another former FCC official on the other side of the aisle suggested dim prospects for getting a fifth commissioner before sometime next year. “Even if Biden were to nominate someone else other than Sohn, I don't believe Senate ranking member Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will allow a confirmation this year. Also, there just aren't enough legislative days left to take up something as [relatively] lowly as an FCC commissioner. Bigger fights will consume floor time.” ■
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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.