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Opinion: U.S. Senate Should Approve Sohn for FCC Spot

The U.S. Senate should promptly approve President Biden’s nominations to the FCC, including new appointee Gigi Sohn, a longtime advocate for open Internet and restoring “net neutrality” regulations.

FCC building.
(Shutterstock)
(TNS) — The U.S. Senate should promptly approve President Joe Biden’s nominations to the Federal Communications Commission.

That includes new appointee Gigi Sohn, a longtime advocate for an open internet and the First Amendment who wants to restore “net neutrality” regulations.

As Biden’s nomination stated, Sohn worked more than 30 years “to defend and preserve the fundamental competition and innovation policies that have made broadband internet access more ubiquitous, competitive, affordable, open and protective of user privacy.”

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, the Edmonds Democrat chairing the Commerce Committee, should advance Sohn’s appointment before the December holiday break.

There are several reasons for the urgency. One is because the U.S. is investing $65 billion in broadband programs through the infrastructure bill, to help close remaining digital divides so all Americans can access and afford this essential service.

That’s part of a broader agenda to strengthen the country and its economy by increasing connectivity, invigorating competition, increasing innovation and extending U.S. leadership in technology.

These things depend not just on spending but on having a robust regulatory system.

Yet the FCC, the independent agency that regulates telecommunications, is sidelined as appointees await confirmation.

The White House took until Oct. 26 to formally make the appointments, leaving the FCC in a 2-2 partisan split. Delays also threaten to bump FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat whose appointment must be renewed by year end.

A hearing on Rosenworcel’s appointment is scheduled for Wednesday, but Sohn remains in limbo.

Sohn, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer, co-founded and led Public Knowledge, a nonprofit promoting universal access to open networks, consumer rights, government transparency and the public’s access to knowledge.

She would be the first openly gay FCC member.

Currently Sohn is a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology and Policy and a director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Sohn was counselor to former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler when the agency implemented net neutrality regulations in 2015. It classified broadband as a communication service subject to regulation and prohibited service providers from throttling, paid prioritization and other methods of content discrimination.

The policy withstood telecoms’ legal challenge but was killed in 2017 after President Donald Trump chose a former Verizon attorney as FCC chair.

That was despite polling at the time that found 83% of Americans, including three of four Republicans, wanted the net neutrality regulations preserved.

Several prominent Senate Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, stepped up attacks on Sohn last week, falsely alleging she would censor conservative outlets.

Their arguments drew on a 2020 tweet in which Sohn called Fox News “state sponsored propaganda” and concerns she voiced about Sinclair Broadcast Group, when its merger with Tribune Broadcasting fell through in 2018.

Even Republicans took issue with that merger, and it’s reasonable to discuss whether public airwaves are being used for good.

The best rebuttal came from conservative broadcasters Newsmax and One America News Network, which endorsed Sohn last week.

“Gigi has been very consistent in her views for diversity in media. She has advocated for reasonable policies to support numerous points of view and to open up the markets to independent voices in all aspects of media,” OAN President Charles Herring stated. “She believes in the First Amendment and the advantages of a strong and open media for the benefit of our democracy.”

Two former FCC commissioners told this editorial board Sohn is an outstanding choice.

“I think she’d be a good and forward-looking voice and certainly not the caricature that some members of Congress are now trying to depict her as,” said Michael Copps, who was on the commission from 2001 through 2011.

Wheeler, who also came to the FCC from the wireless industry, said Sohn is both principled and pragmatic.

“There are people who are trying to frame her as partisan-oriented,” he said. “She is results-oriented, and the key to that is how she has been able to work with industry groups over the years.”

Government needs more people like Sohn. The Senate must act quickly to approve her nomination and Rosenworcel’s, get the FCC to full strength and continue making progress on building America back better.

© 2021 The Seattle Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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