The telecom and broadband industries hope to block a left-wing Federal Communications Commission nominee in order to delay Democratic-backed regulations.
Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the commission, favors stronger government regulation of the broadband industry, most notably net neutrality.
She would be the third Democrat on the commission, giving the party a majority at the five-member agency, which is in charge of regulating the TV, radio, and telecommunications industries, along with ensuring broadband internet access.
Sohn is seen as key to implementing Democrat’s ambitious broadband and telecommunications agenda, which has been hampered by their lack of a majority, despite Biden becoming president at the beginning of this year.
Senate Republicans have criticized Sohn as a left-wing ideologue who would favor heavy-handed regulation, and their opposition has jeopardized her prospects for confirmation.
If Sohn’s nomination is killed, Democrats would be unable to move their agenda forward until Biden nominated, and the Senate confirmed, another Democrat, a process that would take months.
“The industry serves to benefit from Gigi not moving forward and the FCC delaying its push for net neutrality and other government regulations,” said John Feehery, a top Washington lobbyist whose clients include the National Association of Broadcasters and Fox News.
“This helps their bottom line in the next few months by delaying regulations because the FCC would be gridlocked and slowed down on these issues,” said Feehery, who has lobbied on behalf of AT&T, Sprint, and other telecom companies.
Feehery said the two industries oppose the push for net neutrality and further government regulations because they would unnecessarily inhibit competition and hurt consumers.
Amy Nathan, a former senior counsel at the commission, said the industries are focused on their own bottom line, not what’s best for the average internet user, in opposing Sohn.
“The industry is opposed to Gigi for only one reason: so they don’t have to deal with net neutrality or any other parts of the Democratic agenda that are inevitable under Biden,” said Nathan, who advised nine FCC chairs on both sides of the aisle.
“They are looking out for themselves,” Nathan added.
Sohn, 60, who is a fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy and a former Democratic staffer at the FCC, is one of the best-known advocates for breaking up and regulating Big Tech companies. She also strongly favors net neutrality and regulating internet service providers such as Verizon and AT&T as public utilities under what is known as Title II regulations.
Net neutrality is the principle that ISPs should treat all data on the internet the same and not discriminate or charge differently based on where it’s coming from or to whom it’s going.
Under Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC in 2017 voted down rules created by the commission in 2015 that classified ISPs such as AT&T and Comcast as Title II public utilities subject to FCC control.
Republicans across the board are staunchly opposed to the Title II regulations — in part because the Title II protections would allow the federal government to regulate or control broadband internet prices if it wanted to.
Earlier this month during her Senate confirmation hearing, Sohn said she does not support FCC regulations or price controls on broadband internet rates.
Democratic FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel said earlier this month that she does not plan to regulate internet prices directly or indirectly.
Nevertheless, the broadband and telecom industries are worried about a Democratic majority at the FCC, whether that happens with Sohn or another Democrat nominated by Biden if her nomination fails.
“Any delay of the Democratic agenda is, of course, beneficial to the industry,” a former senior FCC official said.
“It’s delaying the inevitable, but it’s good for them because it means another quarter where they can have good numbers and push the regulations fight to tomorrow,” said the former official, who is now a telecom lawyer.
Industry insiders say that delaying a Democratic majority at the commission would provide more stability and predictability to businesses.
“Broadband and telecom industry analysts tell me that they like gridlock because it provides certainty and therefore helps profitability,” said Robert McDowell, a former Republican FCC commissioner who is now a top telecom lawyer and lobbyist at Cooley.
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