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Gigi Sohn’s FCC Prospects Fading Absent Senate Action ASAP

Gigi Sohn
Gigi Sohn (Image credit: C-SPAN)

It’s not looking good for Gigi Sohn’s nomination to fill the third Democratic seat on the Federal Communications Commission, one that’s extremely long-vacant  — for well over a year — and would give the Biden FCC the majority it needs to restore network-neutrality rules or do other things Republicans won’t sign off on. 

The legislative days are dwindling down to a precious few. There are only about four weeks left on the Senate legislative calendar before the August recess, after which lawmakers will be focused on getting themselves re-elected in the midterms.

Sohn was a top adviser to Tom Wheeler, who served as FCC chairman during President Barack Obama’s second term, and was head of the liberal advocacy group Public Knowledge. During the confirmation process, she has taken fire from Republicans and industry opponents for issues including her support for the FCC’s Wheeler-era network neutrality rules, her criticism of Fox News Channel and her involvement with the broadcast-TV streaming platform Locast, which was shuttered after the Big Four broadcasters sued it for copyright infringement.

Her critics appear to be smelling blood.

In an opinion piece, Charlie Gasparino, a senior correspondent for Fox Business and columnist for the The New York Post joined the co-News Corp.-owned The Wall Street Journal in hammering Sohn, as well as the Biden administration for picking her.

Conservative critic and academic Jeffrey McCall, in an opinion piece in The Hill, says Sohn's confirmation has been held up by "bureaucratic wrangling" and is the victim of "bad partisan optics," but that barring some breakthrough with GOP senators, is is time for Sohn to step aside given that time was running out to find a new nominee.

S&P Global telecom/media analyst David DiMolfetta said Sohn has been a victim of bad timing and luck, as well as opposition from a number of legislators.

Even one of her big supporters, Free Press, signaled last week that time was running out. Putting out an all-points bulletin to supporters to press Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to hold a vote on Sohn's nomination, it said that "depending on how the midterm elections go — we may go through Biden’s entire first term without a fully staffed FCC."

The general wisdom is that the Republicans are generally opposed and that Democrat Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is a holdout on that side in an evenly divided Senate, though there is some argument that a Republican or two might vote for her if Manchin did and other Democrats said to be lukewarm on the nomination supported her. Absent that, though they are said not to want to be the Republican who tipped the balance in her favor if Manchin cannot be brought around.

Manchin's office had not returned a request for comment at press time. ▪️

John Eggerton
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.