In Agency First, FCC Employee Union Backs Gigi Sohn

from the dysfunction-junction dept

Despite being hugely qualified and popular across both sides of the aisle, Congress still hasn’t approved Gigi Sohn to the FCC, leaving the agency without the voting majority to do anything popular or even remotely controversial, such as restoring net neutrality, the FCC’s consumer protection authority, or the media consolidation rules stripped away during the Trump era.

And that is, of course, by design.

Sohn’s nomination has been stalled thanks to a combination of Democratic strategic incompetence and a relentless smear campaign orchestrated by telecom and media giants (AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, News Corporation). They’ve spent the last year using nonprofit proxy groups and Rupert Murdoch’s media empire to seed the press with bogus claims that Sohn is radical, hates the police, hates rural america, wants to censor conservatives, and is an enemy to media diversity and Hispanics.

It’s all bullshit, but that’s how DC works. Especially when you’re talking about the nomination of a qualified reformer actually interested in stuff like consumer protection, competent regulatory oversight, and reining in rampant monopolization. In reality, you’d be hard pressed to find a single respected telecom and media policy expert that doesn’t in turn respect Sohn. Yet none of that has mattered so far.

Sources familiar with the nomination process tell me Sohn’s nomination remains very much alive, and that the Biden team still supports Sohn. For now. Yet neither the Biden team nor any of Sohn’s potential future fellow commissioners have provided absolutely any meaningful public messaging support, leaving Sohn largely alone to fend off attacks from a multi-trillion-dollar coalition of companies.

One place Sohn does apparently have support is among the folks working at the FCC. The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represents 800 Federal Communications Commission employees, has, for the first time ever, come out in vocal support for Sohn:

NTEU believes that Ms. Gigi Sohn is a highly qualified nominee,” NETU national president Anthony Reardon said. “She is a former staff member of the FCC and knows the agency well and she would be an excellent member of the Commission. Furthermore, I feel that any further delay in the confirmation of her nomination threatens to inhibit progress at the FCC to the detriment of both the workforce and the American consumer.

Telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast are absolutely thrilled by the ongoing delay.

They enjoyed full four years of full regulatory capture under Trump where mergers were approved before agency commissioners had even read the details, and consumer protections were gleefully stripped away despite overwhelming bipartisan public opposition. And they’ve since enjoyed an additional two years of FCC gridlock thanks largely to their grotesque smear campaign.

That’s six years of regulatory dysfunction that was purchased fairly cheaply, highlighting the full width and breadth of U.S. corruption. Even if Sohn is appointed before the end of the year it takes upwards of nine months to push any meaningful policy changes, so time is growing short. If Sohn is confirmed, it will most likely be during the lame duck session.

If Sohn isn’t confirmed by year’s end she’ll need to be re-nominated in the new year, and it’s not clear that the Biden administration has the political backbone to do so. It seems entirely possible to me that if they can’t get Sohn across the finish line (thanks to a mindless blockade by the GOP and the help of Joe Manchin), they’ll start over with a new, safer, more industry cozy nominee.

One that doesn’t hold “controversial” opinions such as “monopolies are bad,” “media consolidation rules are important,” or “telecom monopolies should be subject to meaningful oversight.” One that makes a lot of feel good speeches about our noble quest to “cure the digital divide,” but doesn’t really want to truly address any of the real reasons that divide persists in 2022.

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