Senate Grills FCC Nominee Sohn For Third Time

Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn on Thursday urged lawmakers in the Senate to advance her confirmation, arguing that her opponents in the telecom and cable industries are responsible for “false and misleading attacks” on her.

“I believe deeply that regulated entities should not choose their regulator,” Sohn told lawmakers Tuesday during her third hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee. “Unfortunately, that is the exact intent of the past 15 months of false and misleading attacks on my record and my character.”

She added that industry opponents “have hidden behind dark money groups and surrogates because they fear a pragmatic, pro-competition, pro-consumer policymaker who will support policies that will bring more, faster, and lower-priced broadband and new voices to your constituents.”

President Joe Biden first nominated Sohn to the FCC in October of 2021, which has been politically deadlocked for the last two years.

If confirmed, Sohn, a long-time net neutrality supporter and consumer advocate, could provide tie-breaking vote that would allow FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel to move ahead with ambitious policy goals -- including the restoration of the Obama-era net neutrality rules, which prohibited broadband carriers from throttling or blocking traffic and from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.

Consumer advocates support Sohn's nomination, as do some industry veterans like former Fox executive Preston Padden, who recently told lawmakers that Sohn helped Fox Broadcasting Company obtain necessary FCC waivers to launch as a network in the 1990s.

Another supporter, Chad Rupe, who served as administrator for the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service during the Trump administration, told the Senate on Tuesday that Sohn was “deeply passionate about the importance of working to close the digital divide for all of our communities.”

At the hearing, Sohn faced hostile remarks about some of her prior activity on social media, including a tweet that described Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as an angry white man, and a retweet of a post describing former president Donald Trump as a “raggedy white supremacist president.

One critic, freshman Senator JD Vance (R-Ohio), blasted Sohn over those tweets.

“You talk about racial issues in a way that will inflame the very worst things in our country and I fear that if you're given this position of authority, you will use that authority to continue to inflame, and to continue, potentially even, to censor based on some of these ideas," Vance said.

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) suggested Tuesday that Sohn's support for net neutrality, as well as her record of fighting for consumers, could be driving opposition to her.

“I think there's probably billions of dollars at stake here and that is why the vitriol is coming at you,” Cantwell said at the start of the hearing.

Critics including the Wall Street Journal and the Chamber of Commerce have denounced Sohn over policy positions, including her support for net neutrality, as well as for statements she made about Fox News.

“As a counselor to Obama FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, Ms. Sohn championed the net-neutrality regulation that classified broadband providers as common carriers,” the Journal wrote this week in an editorial calling her a “left-wing activist,”

Sohn has also faced accusations of wanting to censor conservative views, with opponents pointing to a tweet that called Fox News “dangerous to our democracy.”

Sohn's supporters, including political conservatives, counter that she has always fought for people's right to free speech, regardless of whether they agree with her.

“When other liberals wanted to shut down conservative voices, Gigi stood up for free speech,” Brad Blakeman, formerly a member ex-President George W. Bush's senior White House staff, wrote in a Newsmax column.

The Fraternal Order of Police also opposed Sohn's nomination, pointing to her position on the board the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation -- which supports encrypted messaging, and which has praised Edward Snowden for revealing the NSA's extensive surveillance efforts.

At the hearing, Cantwell asked Sohn whether she supported Snowden.

“No, I actually think Edward Snowden is a Russian asset,” Sohn answered.

She added, “When somebody's on the board of an organization, it doesn't mean they agree with every single thing they do.”

Sohn also answered in the affirmative when asked whether she supported the ability of the police to obtain data with a warrant. 

Last year, the Senate Commerce Committee voted 14-14 on Sohn's confirmation. The tie allowed her nomination to advance, but the full Senate failed to hold a confirmation vote before the end of the year.

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