The Senate Commerce Committee should “overwhelmingly” vote to confirm net neutrality advocate Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission, former industry lobbyist Preston Padden told the Senate Commerce Committee on Monday.
“The question before the Committee is not whether established industry companies agree with Ms. Sohn’s views,” Padden said in a letter sent to the committee. “The question is whether she is qualified. The answer to that is an unequivocal ‘yes.’”
“I hope the Committee finds a way to produce an overwhelming bi-partisan vote for her confirmation,” Padden, a former senior executive and lobbyist for Fox and ABC, wrote.
He added that 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.”
Padden’s letter comes two days before the Senate Commerce Committee plans to hold an unusual second hearing on Sohn’s nomination.
The FCC is currently deadlocked with two Republicans and two Democrats. Until a third commissioner is appointed, the agency is unlikely to advance Chair Jessica Rosenworcel’s goal of restoring the Obama-era net neutrality rules, which prohibited broadband carriers from blocking or throttling traffic and from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.
President Joe Biden first nominated Sohn to the agency last year, then re-nominated her last month, due to the Senate’s failure to vote on her confirmation.
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.
Padden says in his letter to lawmakers that even though he opposes net neutrality, an FCC with a majority of Democrats “is almost certain to reimpose those rules regardless of the name of the third Democrat Commissioner.”
“Therefore,” he writes, “the issue of net neutrality is not relevant to Ms. Sohn’s confirmation.”
Some Republicans have voiced opposition to Sohn because she has publicly criticized Fox News.
On October 28, 2020, while the Senate was holding a hearing about Facebook’s content moderation policies, she tweeted: “For all my concerns about #Facebook, I believe that Fox News has had the most negative impact on our democracy. It’s state-sponsored propaganda, with few if any opposing viewpoints. Where’s the hearing about that?”
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 ex-President George W. Bush’s senior White House staff) support Sohn’s nomination.
“Even when other liberals wanted to shut down conservative voices, Gigi stood up for free speech,” Blakeman wrote recently in Newsmax.
Sohn also has faced questions about her role on the board of streaming service Locast — which shuttered last year after a federal judge ruled the company infringed broadcasters’ copyrights.
At her hearing in December, Sohn said she thought she thought the service benefited viewers as well as local broadcasters.
Locast, created by the nonprofit Sports Fans Coalition NY, captured over-the-air broadcast signals and streamed them to people within specific geographic areas.
“I thought it was a good thing … for local broadcasters. And local broadcasters didn’t sue. The networks sued,” she said in response to questions from Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri). “I also thought it was good for viewers.”
Padden told lawmakers that he is a “copyright hardliner” and agrees with the plaintiffs that sued Locast, but said the case raised “legitimate questions of copyright law about which reasonable people can, and do, disagree.”
He also noted that entrepreneur Barry Diller had backed Aereo, a streaming company that also lost a lawsuit brought by broadcasters.
“Being associated with Locast no more disqualifies Ms. Sohn from being confirmed for the FCC than being associated with Aereo would disqualify Mr. Diller,” Padden wrote.***