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Connectivity and innovation require a strong FCC: Senate expected to approve candidate Sohn

The US Senate is expected to quickly approve President Joe Biden’s appointments to the Federal Communications Commission.

This includes new person named Gigi Sohn, a longtime advocate for an open Internet and the First Amendment that wants to restore “net neutrality” regulations.

As Biden’s appointment indicates, Sohn has worked for more than 30 years “to defend and preserve the fundamental policies of competition and innovation that have made high-speed Internet access more ubiquitous, competitive, affordable, open and protective of user privacy ”.

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, the Democrat from Edmonds who chairs the trade committee, is expected to advance Sohn’s appointment before the December recess.

There are several reasons for the emergency. The first is that the United States is investing $ 65 billion in broadband programs through the Infrastructure Bill, to help bridge the remaining digital divides so that all Americans can access and afford this essential service.

It’s part of a larger agenda to strengthen the country and its economy by increasing connectivity, stimulating competition, increasing innovation, and expanding U.S. leadership in technology.

These things depend not only on spending, but also on a strong regulatory system.

Yet the FCC, the independent agency that regulates telecommunications, is on the sidelines as those named await confirmation.

The White House took until October 26 to formally make the nominations, leaving the FCC in a partisan 2-2 divide. The delays also threaten to supplant FCC President Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat whose appointment is due for reappointment by the end of the year.

A hearing on Rosenworcel’s appointment is scheduled for Wednesday, but Sohn remains in limbo.

Sohn, a Washington, DC-based lawyer, co-founded and led Public Knowledge, a non-profit organization promoting universal access to open networks, consumer rights, government transparency, and public access to the knowledge.

She would be the first openly gay member of the FCC.

Currently, Sohn is a Distinguished Fellow of the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology and Policy and Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Sohn was adviser to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler when the agency implemented net neutrality regulations in 2015. She classified broadband as a regulated communications service and has prohibits service providers from limiting, prioritizing and other methods of content discrimination.

The policy has withstood the telecommunications court challenge, but was killed in 2017 after President Donald Trump chose a former Verizon lawyer as FCC chairman.

This was despite polls at the time which found that 83% of Americans, including three in four Republicans, wanted Net neutrality rules to be preserved.

Several prominent Senate Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, stepped up their attacks on Sohn last week, falsely alleging she would censor the conservative media.

Their arguments were based on a 2020 tweet in which Sohn called Fox News “state-sponsored propaganda” and the concerns she expressed about Sinclair Broadcast Group, when its merger with Tribune Broadcasting failed in 2018.

Even Republicans have challenged this merger, and it’s reasonable to argue whether public airwaves are being used for good.

The best rebuttal came from conservative broadcasters Newsmax and One America News Network, which endorsed Sohn last week.

“Gigi has been very consistent in her views on diversity in media. She advocated for reasonable policies to support many views and open markets to independent voices in all aspects of media ”, OAN President Charles Herring said. “She believes in the First Amendment and in the benefits of strong and open media for the benefit of our democracy.”

Two former FCC commissioners told this editorial board that Sohn was an exceptional choice.

“I think she would be a good forward-looking voice and certainly not the caricature that some members of Congress are now trying to portray,” said Michael Copps, who served on the committee from 2001 to 2011.

Wheeler, who also came to the FCC from the wireless industry, said Sohn was both pragmatic and principled.

“There are people who try to portray her as partisan,” he said. “She is results driven, and the key to that is how she has been able to work with industry groups over the years.”

The government needs more people like Sohn. The Senate must act quickly to approve his and Rosenworcel’s appointment, strengthen the FCC, and continue to move forward to build America back better.



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