Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden’s controversial choice to fill the vacant seat on the five-member Federal Communications Commission, will have his confirmation hearing before the Senate Trade Committee on Wednesday, paving the way for restoring protections to Obama-era net neutrality.
While Biden’s choice to head the agency, Jessica Rosenworcel, garnered bipartisan support, Sohn drew opposition from some Republicans, who described her as extreme partisan. Sohn, who co-founded the public interest group Public Knowledge and advised former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, is a long-time supporter of net neutrality, privacy and security rules. diversity in media ownership.
The FCC has been split 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans since Biden took office in January, preventing the agency from acting on the Democrats’ agenda to restore net neutrality. Rosenworcel’s appointment, which was heard two weeks ago, is expected to move from the Senate Commerce Committee to the full Senate on Thursday.
With Rosenworcel and Sohn both confirmed, Democrats will have their majority and be ready to keep Biden’s promise to put net neutrality rules back on the books. In July, he issued an executive order urging the FCC to restore Obama-era rules and take other steps to promote broadband competition, including asking the agency to require high-speed businesses. debit that they show transparency on prices.
Restoring the net neutrality rules that Republicans dismantled in 2017 will likely be the No. 1 priority on the Democrats’ agenda. But the question remains to know how far the agency will go to restore the rules.
The agency could simply reinstate the 2015 rules that Sohn helped write. These rules would force Internet service providers, like Comcast and Verizon, to treat all Internet traffic equally and prohibit them from offering “fast lanes” where some businesses could pay for their customers to access sites and services. faster than through their competitors. The rules also reclassified broadband as a so-called Title II service under the Communications Act, which gave the FCC the power to regulate broadband.
But Sohn’s critics fear she might push for more sweeping changes. In an interview with CNET in December 2020, Sohn indicated that she would like to go beyond the clear no-block, no-limit, and no-priority-paid rules.
“I am not arguing for just reinstating the old rules,” Sohn said at the time. “We need to push for the FCC authority to adopt a policy to deal with issues like zero rates and data caps.”
Sohn went on to say that the bar has been raised. The norm is not the FCC rules of 2015, but policymakers should instead look at California’s stricter net neutrality law of 2018, which goes beyond the rules of the Obama era. This legislation prohibits certain zero-rate offers, which consist in bundling access to certain content or services free of charge as part of a broadband service. Promotions offered by AT&T, for example, exempt its own streaming services from the data caps of its wireless customers.
Sohn’s long history as a lawyer and her position as the founder of the public interest group Public Knowledge, which pushed for greater authority from the FCC, sparked concern among Republicans on the Commerce Committee, such as Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Senator John Thune of South Dakota.
Thune told Politico: “She’s very on the left, she’s going to be a heavy hand in regulation, very heavy in net neutrality.”
Although not on the committee, Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, also spoke out against Sohn, saying in a tweet: “I will do everything in my power to convince my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reject this extreme candidate. ”
He called Sohn a “complete political ideologue who has contempt for conservatives. She would be a complete nightmare for the country when it comes to regulating public airwaves.”
But civil rights, internet rights and public interest groups hailed his appointment. They noted his vast experience and qualifications.
“I think there’s this bad characterization of Gigi [Sohn]”said Greg Guice, director of government affairs for Public Knowledge, a public interest group Sohn helped found.” She is geared towards advocating for good policy. She has a really good network of people on both sides of the aisles and she really listens on both sides. “