Congress Should Exercise Caution as Some Push for Sohn Confirmation to FCC

Last year, the Biden administration nominated Gigi Sohn to fill the fifth seat of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). She was renominated this January, but her bid has yet to receive a vote on the Senate floor. As the November midterms and the end of the current session of Congress approach, there has been a new push to confirm Sohn to the FCC. However, her history of controversial stances on key issues should be a cause for concern to American taxpayers and consumers. 

Internet service providers (ISPs) and broadband providers would likely become more heavily regulated under Sohn’s direction. Sohn is a strong proponent of net neutrality. She worked directly with former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to implement strict Title II net neutrality policies during the Obama administration. NTU noted around that time that the Obama-era FCC net neutrality regulations were like “apply[ing] archaic 1930’s laws to the internet.”

As NTU noted in October of last year, regarding Sohn’s pending nomination:

“On behalf of consumers and taxpayers, members should press… Sohn on important issues like Title II net neutrality regulations and broadband price controls. Access to affordable broadband has become increasingly important during the pandemic and it is more important than ever for lawmakers to ensure the agency will not revert to heavy-handed internet regulations and failed partisan ideas that would leave consumers worse off.”

Americans don’t stand to benefit from increased federal regulation of technology platforms. Government regulations or price controls often come at the cost of jobs and GDP growth, resulting in less effective private sector services at higher costs. 

Affordable broadband is another important issue facing the FCC. The federal government is funding expansions of internet access following the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Current broadband distribution is fraught with inequities, making it crucial to develop regulations that will expand internet access to underserved areas. However, some regulatory efforts in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act go too far and would create additional costs for major internet service providers that may not ultimately address the issue of access.

Previously, Gigi Sohn co-founded and led Public Knowledge, a group that advocates on issues such as net neutrality and competition policy. Public Knowledge is part of a coalition that supports 12 GHz spectrum changes that would negatively impact connectivity for rural communities. Sohn’s history with Public Knowledge raises concerns about the types of policies she would advance at the FCC. The commissioners of the FCC hold great responsibility to protect free speech and uphold a robust internet system.

Ever since her nomination, Sohn has received backlash over past statements about conservative media as well. She called Fox News “state-sponsored propaganda” and suggested that the right-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group should have its license revoked. 

Currently, the FCC is operating with four commissioners in a 2-2 partisan split. Even without a fifth member, the FCC is delivering on bipartisan initiatives. It is not uncommon to have fewer than five commissioners, so there is no reason to confirm a nominee who advocates for harmful policies. Gigi Sohn has advanced multiple troubling policy proposals during her career.Sohn’s nomination should be closely scrutinized and if she was to be confirmed, she would represent a movetowards significant government regulation of everyday technology consumers and taxpayers rely on.