FCC Nominee Faces Republican Critics At Senate Hearing

Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn told lawmakers on Wednesday that she has faced "unfair" and "outright false" criticism, which she partially attributes to an effort to keep the agency deadlocked with two Republicans and two Democrats.

"I have been subject to unrelenting, unfair, and outright false criticism and scrutiny," she told the Senate Commerce Committee at an unusual second hearing on her nomination.

“I realize that this isn’t all about me,” she added. “It’s about some wanting to stop the FCC from doing its important work ensuring that everyone in America has robust broadband regardless of who they are, what their income is or where they live... A deadlocked agency helps almost nobody, save for a few huge corporations.”

Her testimony came at an unusual second hearing on her nomination.

Sohn, currently a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy, previously served as counselor to former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, who led the agency during President Obama's second term. She also co-founded the advocacy group Public Knowledge in 2001.

President Joe Biden initially nominated her last year for a spot on the agency. Numerous public interest groups support Sohn's nomination, as do some conservative media executives who have disagreed with her on policy issues.

Earlier this week, Preston Padden, a former senior executive and lobbyist for Fox and ABC, told lawmakers Sohn is “one of the most prepared and experienced nominees in the history of the FCC,” and “has been a particularly effective advocate for competition and new market entrants.”

The FCC is unlikely to advance controversial policy initiatives, including restoring the Obama-era net neutrality rules, as long as it's deadlocked on a partisan basis.

Some Republicans who oppose Sohn's confirmation raised questions about her role on the board of streaming service Locast -- which captured over-the-air broadcast signals and streamed them to people within specific geographic areas.

Locast, created by the nonprofit Sports Fans Coalition NY, shuttered last year after a federal judge said the company couldn't rely on a provision of the Copyright Act that allowed nonprofits to boost antenna signals.

After that ruling, Locast publicly agreed to a $32 million settlement with broadcasters that had sued for alleged copyright infringement. But it later forged a confidential agreement with broadcasters to pay just $700,000 of that $32 million.

Details about that subsequent agreement surfaced two weeks ago.

Republian lawmakers questioned Sohn on Wednesday about why she hadn't previously disclosed that Locast settled with broadcasters for just a fraction of the original figure.

“Ms. Sohn has not been forthcoming about this settlement,” Senator Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) said in his opening statement. “When I asked her about the source of the $32 million settlement, she did not acknowledge that it had been reduced to $700,000, which raises questions as to what else she is not revealing about this litigation.” 

Sohn said the agreement prohibited her from discussing financial terms.

“I took very seriously my duty to keep the terms of the settlement agreement confidential,” she said.

She also said the details of the settlement were worked out two weeks before she was nominated to the agency.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), who voiced support for Sohn, suggested that her critics wanted to prevent the FCC from moving forward.

“It is part of an effort to deadlock, disarm and disable the FCC,” Blumenthal said at the hearing.

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