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Gigi Sohn returns to Congress for a third try at securing empty FCC chair

Gigi Sohn returns to Congress for a third try at securing empty FCC chair


Gigi Sohn’s stalled nomination has blocked the FCC from reinstating net neutrality, among other White House priorities.

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Image: PETE MAROVICH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the Federal Communications Commission, is set to appear for a third confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday.

First nominated in October 2021, Sohn’s confirmation has been held up by a combination of shaky Democratic support and bad-faith Republican attacks on her record. The resulting stalemate has blocked the nation’s top telecommunications regulator from tackling White House priorities like reinstating net neutrality and expanding high-speed broadband nationwide.

In an opening statement viewed by The Verge Monday, Sohn is expected to call out the telecom industry for helping to slow-walk her confirmation. 

“I believe deeply that regulated entities should not choose their regulator,” said Sohn in her prepared remarks for Tuesday’s hearing. “Unfortunately, that is the exact intent of the past 15 months of false and misleading attacks on my record and my character.” 

“I believe deeply that regulated entities should not choose their regulator.”

The relentless opposition campaign spearheaded by Republicans has mired progress on Sohn’s nomination for more than a year. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the committee’s top Republican, has been at the forefront of this resistance, calling Sohn an extremist and claiming that she would leverage the position to censor conservatives.

“Given the way FCC decisions can impact what we watch, read, and ultimately think, the FCC is a dangerous place for a radical who has suggested the government should censor Americans who hold views contrary to her own,” Cruz said in a statement to Fox News Digital Monday. “Ms. Sohn will have much to answer for at her hearing this week.”

While many GOP senators have embraced similar criticisms of Sohn, executives of some of the most conservative news networks, Newsmax and One America News Network, have long supported Sohn’s nomination to the post. In a pair of 2021 statements, network officials praised her commitment to free speech, despite her personal political beliefs. 

“I know Gigi. I have worked with Gigi. And I have seen her fight for people’s right to express themselves, even when she disagrees with them,” said Bradley Blakeman, former assistant to George W. Bush in an op-ed for Newsmax in November 2021. “I trust Gigi to get it right when it comes to protecting my free speech.” 

GOP defiance has only grown since President Biden nominated Sohn for a second time last month. In the days following the announcement, Fox News and other conservative news outlets targeted Sohn’s position on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit advocating for online privacy and free expression, as its latest boogeyman haunting her confirmation. 

“I trust Gigi to get it right when it comes to protecting my free speech.”

The articles point to EFF’s public opposition to a 2018 law known as FOSTA-SESTA that intended to combat online sex trafficking. EFF was not an outlier in its antagonistic position to the law. Prominent tech community groups like the Center for Democracy and Technology and Fight for the Future condemned it, arguing the law could lead to the unnecessary censorship of legal online content and harm vulnerable people. Despite this, outlets like Fox framed Sohn as being part of a group “that has vehemently opposed bipartisan legislation designed to protect sex trafficking victims.” 

Earlier this month, supporters of Sohn, who is openly gay, called the attacks “homophobic nonsense,” in an op-ed for Fast Company. 

“Gigi has never taken a position on SESTA/FOSTA or any similar legislation, and EFF opposed SESTA/FOSTA long before Gigi became a board member,” Evan Greer, Fight for the Future director, and Yvette Scorse, National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) communications director, said in the op-ed. “None of this is remotely relevant to Gigi’s candidacy for a position at the FCC, the agency that oversees phone and cable companies.”

Despite these attacks, Sohn supporters are hopeful she will be confirmed this year. The Senate Commerce Committee approved Sohn’s nomination in a tie vote last March but lacked the votes to force a vote on the floor. This past November, Democrats secured a Senate majority for the first time under the Biden administration, making a vote on the floor more likely to succeed. 

“The Senate never really had sufficient enough time to take up her nomination,” Greg Guice, director of public affairs at Public Knowledge, an internet advocacy group co-founded by Sohn, told The Verge on Monday. “But I think it’s going to happen fairly soon.”

Reached for comment Monday, spokespeople for the White House and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, did not respond. But in her prepared remarks, Sohn thanked Biden and Cantwell for their continued support. 

“My industry opponents have hidden behind dark money groups and surrogates because they fear a pragmatic, pro-competition, pro-consumer policymaker who will support policies that will bring more, faster, and lower-priced broadband and new voices to your constituents,” Sohn continued.