The Senate Commerce Committee’s continued delay in confirming President Joe Biden’s nominee to fill the empty seat on the deadlocked Federal Communications Commission is being criticized as a “gift” to powerful tech companies.
Gigi Sohn, co-founder of advocacy group Public Knowledge and longtime net neutrality advocate, already had a confirmation hearing in December, but Biden renamed it after the committee, chaired by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), failed to name her. to the Senate for a vote.
Sohn appears for the second time before the Commerce Committee on Wednesday.
The additional delayonly hurts the American public and blocks the FCC, which is precisely the point,” said Matt Wood, vice president of policy and general counsel for the Free Press, on Wednesday.
Committee Republicans and telecommunications industry lobbyists “don’t want the agency to work, and they will find any excuse to delay, derail, or distract regulators from doing their job,” Wood added. “Today’s hearing is totally unnecessary.”
The committee was due to vote on advancing Sohn’s nomination last week, but Cantwell announced a day before the scheduled vote that it would be further delayed, citing the absence of committee member Sen. Ben Ray Luján (DN .M.) following a stroke.
“There is no legitimate reason to hold a second hearing regarding a recusal that the Office of Government Ethics and the FCC’s General Counsel have determined is not necessary.”
Without Luján’s presence, Republicans could have blocked Sohn’s nomination by voting along party lines. Evan Greer, director of the digital advocacy group Fight for the Future, expressed understanding of the postponement of the vote due to Luján’s unforeseen health crisis, but said last week that the second hearing was “totally irrelevant”.
“The timeline suggests Cantwell was considering this even before that,” she said. tweeted after Wednesday’s hearing announcement.
Greer wrote to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) last week, calling for Cantwell’s removal as committee chair and saying she “actively and blatantly prevented Democrats to look good” on Biden’s promise to end the FCC’s 2-2 stalemate so it can reinstate net neutrality rules repealed by the Trump administration and enact other regulations.
“She repeatedly bowed to dishonest opposition from Republicans and industry lobbyists, resulting in inexcusable delays” in Sohn’s confirmation process, Greer wrote.
As advocacy group Free Press reported last month, telecoms giant Comcast’s hiring of a new lobbyist appeared specifically aimed at challenging Sohn’s appointment.
Republicans on the Commerce Committee claimed Sohn’s FCC nomination was unsuitable because of his past comments on right-wing news outlets like FoxNewswhom she accused of spreading “propaganda” in a tweet in 2020.
Sen. Roger Wicker (D-Miss.), the committee’s ranking member, claimed Sohn’s past as a board member of discontinued nonprofit streaming service, Locast, disqualifies her. . Locast was ordered in federal court to shut down and settled with several broadcast networks whose content it aired.
Sohn has pledged to recuse herself from certain broadcast regulatory matters if she is confirmed as FCC commissioner – although her recusal is not required by government ethics officials – to ensure that “ the public has full confidence that decision makers will make decisions without bias.”
Holding a second hearing rather than just taking a vote once Luján is able to participate, observers said, will give Republicans an opportunity to re-raise their alleged concerns.
“We have to deal with Senator Wicker’s dishonest and blatant obstructionism over this crucial appointment,” Wood said last week. “And with Senator Cantwell caving in to the unreasonable demands of opponents of Sohn, we’re going to see a hearing full of political posturing that serves no one but industry players eager to stretch the timeline and keep the FCC in the game. ‘dead end.”
Wood blamed the White House’s delay in naming FCC nominees last year as well as Wicker’s “continued opportunistic nonsense,” saying it’s unclear whether Cantwell “is participating in this obstruction or is simply extremely ineffective in countering it”.
The delay caused by Cantwell’s decision to hold another hearing “is a gift to AT&T, Comcast and the other companies that have worked for years to weaken the FCC’s authority and benefit from a deadlocked agency “said Joshua Stager, deputy director of broadband. and competition policy at the Open Technology Institute of New America last week.
“There is no legitimate reason to hold a second hearing regarding a recusal that the Office of Government Ethics and the FCC’s General Counsel have determined is not necessary,” he said. he adds.
Stager and Greer both noted that the second hearing “sets a dangerous precedent” for future Biden nominees – a concern that was reinforced on Tuesday as Daily Communications reported that Republicans on the committee are now seeking a second hearing for Alvaro Bedoya, Biden’s nominee to serve on the Federal Trade Commission.