The Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled a vote for Wednesday on whether to approve the nominations of Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission and Alvaro Bedoya to the Federal Trade Commission.
President Biden nominated Sohn and Bedoya last year, but the Senate didn't confirm either before the session ended, leaving both the FTC and FCC deadlocked with two Republicans and two Democrats. Until a fifth, tie-breaking commissioner joins both agencies, they're not likely to advance the more controversial items on their leaders' agendas -- including FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel's plan to restore the Obama-era net neutrality rules.
Sohn, currently a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy, previously served as counselor to former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler. She also co-founded the advocacy group Public Knowledge in 2001.
Her nomination proved controversial for a few reasons, including that she publicly criticized Fox News, and that she served on the board of the defunct streaming service Locast.
On Thursday Sohn said that if confirmed to the FCC, she would recuse herself from any proceedings where “retransmission consent” or “television broadcast copyright” is a material issue.
The National Association of Broadcasters, which had earlier voiced concerns about Sohn's role on Locast's board, said the recusal agreement resolved those concerns.
“NAB appreciates Ms. Sohn's willingness to seriously consider our issues regarding retransmission consent and broadcast copyright, and to address those concerns in her recusal,” President and CEO Curtis LeGeyt stated. “We look forward to the Senate moving forward with Ms. Sohn’s confirmation and are eager to work with her and the full complement of commissioners in the very near future.”
Locast, created by the nonprofit Sports Fans Coalition NY, captured over-the-air broadcast signals and streamed them to people within specific geographic areas. The company shut down last year after a judge ruled that the service infringed copyright.
Sohn told lawmakers last month that she thought the service benefited viewers as well as local broadcasters.
She also came under fire with some conservatives for tweeting criticism of Fox News in October of 2020.
“For all my concerns about #Facebook, I believe that Fox News has had the most negative impact on our democracy,” she tweeted. “It's state-sponsored propaganda, with few if any opposing viewpoints.”
The Wall Street Journal, which called attention to that tweet, suggested that Sohn would attempt to censor conservative media outlets.
But some prominent conservatives, including Brad Blakeman (formerly a member of ex-President George W. Bush's senior White House staff), publicly supported Sohn's nomination.
“I know Gigi. I have worked with Gigi. And I have seen her fight for people's right to express themselves, even when she disagrees with them,” Blakeman wrote recently in Newsmax.
Sohn told lawmakers last month that she strongly supports free expression.
“Freedom of speech is the lifeblood of our American experience and has always been at the core of my work,” she said in her written testimony. “I am proud that some of the most conservative television networks are supporting my confirmation because I worked with them for years to get access to cable subscribers after operators refused to carry them.”
Bedoya, founding director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, is a privacy advocate best known for proposing curbs on the use of facial-recognition technology.
The advocacy group Fight for the Future cheered the news that the Senate Commerce Committee will vote on Bedoya and Sohn next week.
“These positions are essential for addressing the harms and monopoly power of Big Tech and Big Telecom companies,” the organization stated.