from the dysfunction-junction dept
We’ve noted several times how telecom and media giants are running a sleazy year-long smear campaign against Biden FCC nominee Gigi Sohn, in the hopes of blocking her confirmation vote and miring the agency in perpetual consumer protection gridlock. The attacks have been carefully seeded across the US press through various think tanks and nonprofits, and accuse Sohn of everything from hating police to being an enemy of rural America.
Nominated last October after an inexplicable nine month delay, Sohn is widely popular and broadly experienced. Yet whereas Trump FCC appointee Nathan Simington (who had little to no telecom experience) was nominated and confirmed in less than 30 days, Sohn’s nomination has languished for much of the year. Why? She’s an actual reformer. An anti-monopolist.
Sohn’s nomination is uniformly opposed by the entire Senate GOP whose blind fealty to telecom monopolies has long been unwavering. That means she’s needed all Democrats to get in line to get her nomination across the finish line. But three Senators: Mark Kelly (Arizona), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada), and Joe Manchin (West Virginia) have repeatedly waffled on providing their support.
All three Senators were targeted by companies like Comcast over the summer, which hired former staffers to try and influence their votes on Sohn during heated midterm fights. With the midterms over there was some hope that Kelly and Masto could be swayed (Manchin is generally viewed as the most obstinate of the three), but Democrats have made it clear they’re in no rush to confirm Sohn during the lame duck:
Cantwell said the nomination of Democrat Gigi Sohn to fill the key fifth seat on the Federal Communication Commission faced the same issue on timing when asked if the Senate would take up the nomination before the end of December. The FCC has been divided 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans since January 2021.
“It’s all about the queue of are we doing legislation or are we doing nom(inations) and my sense is right now we’re trying to get the omnibus done,” Cantwell said.
There’s never really been a sense of urgency to seat Sohn from folks like Cantwell, who has repeatedly been accused of “dithering” by reformers. The original 9 month delay by the Biden Administration to even appoint Sohn also sent a loud message, intentional or not: telecom consumer protection really isn’t much of an actual priority.
If there’s no lame duck vote, the hope is that Warnock’s Georgia win will give Sohn enough help to get over the hump in 2023. But that would require Biden re-nominate Sohn in a new year. If Sohn’s not re-nominated, it’s extremely likely that any replacement candidate would be far friendlier to telecom industry interests, and less “controversial” (read: interested in actual, meaningful reform) to grease the skids.
Even if Sohn is eventually seated sometime in the middle of 2023, that gives her only around a year and a half to develop and help pass meaningful policy. And should the GOP retake the White House in 2024, it would be relatively trivial to strip those reforms away using the Congressional Review Act, just like they did in 2017 with the GOP killed basic FCC broadband privacy rules before they could take effect.
The Washington Post reported this week that “Conservative groups” (read: nonprofits used by telecom and media companies to pee in the discourse pool while pretending to be objective, good faith organizations) have spent a quarter million dollars on Facebook ads smearing Sohn:
In the past year, two conservative nonprofits — the American Accountability Foundation (AAF) and the Center for a Free Economy (CFE) — have placed at least $246,000 in Facebook ads opposing Sohn, according to a review of digital ads archives. Facebook does not disclose the exact amount paid or reach garnered for ads on the site, but its database shows that the two groups’ paid messages have been shown to users at least 14.8 million times.
Countless millions more have been spent under the table on all the nonprofits out there currently seeding the press with false claims that Sohn hates cops, rural Americans, free speech, and Hispanics. And some of the money attacking Sohn has also come from Democrats, like former Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who, over the summer, waged a $250k campaign aimed at making things up about how Sohn secretly hates rural America, an incoherent claim to anybody that actually knows her.
All of this illustrates how afraid telecom and media giants are of losing all the hand outs thrown their way by the Trump administration, whether we’re talking about net neutrality or media consolidation rules. It also illustrates what awaits you if you’re a popular, experienced policymaker interested in genuinely reforming one of the most heavily monopolized industries in America.
The telecom industry enjoyed four years of pure regulatory capture under a Trump administration that effectively gave the sector everything it wanted: zero oversight, mindless merger approvals, and huge tax breaks for doing nothing. Under Biden, the agency has been gridlocked for going on two years thanks to a relentless smear campaign.
That’s six years in which the top U.S. media and telecom regulator has been either directly captured by industry, or bogged down in partisan gridlock directly thanks to corporate lobbying. Yet the press, when it can be bothered to cover what’s happening to Sohn in between transcribing Elon Musk brain farts, seems incapable of calling any of this what it is: corruption.
Filed Under: broadband, catherine cortez masto, corruption, digital divide, fcc, gigi sohn, high speed internet, joe manchin, mark kelly, media, monopolies, telecom