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Gigi Sohn

Gigi Sohn testifies during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on February 9, 2022 in Washington, D.C.  (Photo: Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

'Sohn or Bust!' FCC Advocates Demand Vote on Sohn as Deadlock Hits 500th Day

"The clock is not just running out for Gigi Sohn to be confirmed but also for any chance to have a fully functional FCC during the Biden administration."

Julia Conley

Government watchdogs are intensifying calls on the U.S. Senate to confirm net neutrality defender Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission after a monthslong delay which has frustrated advocacy groups as the panel remains deadlocked and unable to pass crucial reforms.

Saturday marks the 500th day of the deadlock, media justice group Free Press said.

Democrats are under pressure to confirm Sohn, founder of telecom policy group Public Knowledge, to fill the fifth seat on the FCC before Congress' summer recess begins August 8.

Without a confirmation by then, the party may miss the opportunity to use its slim majority to secure three seats on the panel before the midterm elections.

"Failing to confirm Ms. Sohn would not just result in lost opportunities for the White House and FCC to advance public interest agendas but would also negatively impact our everyday lives."

"Given the current time constraints, it would be incredibly difficult if not impossible for the White House to identify, vet, nominate, and for the Senate to ultimately confirm another nominee if Ms. Sohn is not confirmed," said Michael Copps, former FCC commissioner and a special advisor to Common Cause. "If we want to break the deadlock and have an FCC that can fully address the communications needs of our households during this administration, it's Ms. Sohn or bust."

Right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) remain undecided on whether they'll support Sohn as the telecom industry targets corporate members of the party with ads urging them to vote against her.

As Common Dreams reported in April, lobbyists from companies including AT&T and Comcast have helped push false claims that Sohn is insufficiently committed to rural broadband issues and promoting diversity in the industry, taking advantage of the Democrats' delay.

"The clock is not just running out for Gigi Sohn to be confirmed but also for any chance to have a fully functional FCC during the Biden administration," said Copps. "Big money opposition understands this dynamic and is running a smear campaign to stall Ms. Sohn's confirmation. The ISP gatekeepers know that a functional FCC would hold them accountable for engaging in discriminatory and anti-competitive practices."

With a 2-2 deadlock on the commission, Chair Jessica Rosenworcel—who was nominated to her post by President Joe Biden—has been unable to lead the FCC in restoring net neutrality protections gutted by the Trump administration, pass rules addressing monopolization in the telecom sector, protect communications networks from the climate crisis, and strengthen broadband affordability initiatives, among other reforms.

"Failing to confirm Ms. Sohn would not just result in lost opportunities for the White House and FCC to advance public interest agendas but would also negatively impact our everyday lives as robust and affordable connectivity has become crucial to participating in our democracy and society," said Copps.

Manchin has angered progressives throughout Biden's presidency as he has refused to support filibuster reform in order to pass legislation protecting voting rights and women's healthcare and has obstructed the president's signature domestic spending package, the Build Back Better Act.

Craig Aaron, co-CEO of Free Press, said late last month that with 82% of Democrats and nearly two-thirds of Republicans supporting net neutrality protections—which prohibit internet service providers from creating "fast lanes" with faster download speeds for websites that pay more for them—"It's a public disgrace that so many in Washington have chosen to ignore the will of people back home in favor of the well-heeled industry lobbyists who come knocking every day."

"The best thing the Democrats who still control the Senate can do is to quickly confirm Gigi Sohn to fill the fifth seat at the commission," said Aaron. "Sohn is a devoted public servant who advocates for policies and programs that will improve people’s lives, including reinstating the Title II classification for ISPs that would restore net neutrality protections."

Along with Manchin and Kelly, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, garnered criticism in February for holding a second confirmation hearing for Sohn instead of bringing her nomination to the Senate floor for a vote.

Cantwell "has been actively and egregiously preventing Democrats from making good" on Biden's promise to end the FCC deadlock, Evan Greer of Fight for the Future said at the time.

"We can't afford any more delays," said Yosef Getachew, director of Common Cause's Media and Democracy Program.

Noting that Americans have waited "500 days for a fully functional FCC," Aaron demanded that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) "stop letting cynical political maneuvers from obstructionist lawmakers and industry-aligned hacks further delay the crucial work of the FCC."

"It's time to call this vote now—before it's too late," he said.

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