from the dysfunction-junction dept
We just got done noting how the telecom industry has been pushing misleading editorials in Arizona to derail the nomination of popular and well-qualified telecom and telecom reformer Gigi Sohn to the FCC. The editorials are full of false claims that Sohn has a terrible track record on media diversity, shoveled by organizations with longstanding financial ties to AT&T.
During the Trump era the telecom industry effectively controlled the FCC, which in turn did pretty much everything the nation’s biggest media and telecom giants wanted, including rubber stamping mergers before even reading the details, gutting FCC consumer protection authority, and demolishing decades-old media consolidation rules crafted with broad bipartisan consensus.
Telecom monopolies are now terrified that the Sohn appointment won’t just break 2-2 commissioner gridlock (they created) at the agency, it will mean the restoration of meaningful federal oversight over one of the least popular and least competitive industries in the Internet ecosystem.
The entirety of the GOP, always in perfect lockstep with AT&T and Comcast on every issue (despite feigned party interest in “antitrust reform”), blanketly refuses to vote for Sohn. She can still be appointed exclusively with Democratic votes, which is why AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and Charter lobbyists are now targeting Democratic Senators who are looking vulnerable during the upcoming midterms.
They’re specifically targeting Senators Mark Kelly of Arizona, and Catherine Cortez Mastro of Nevada, though once again Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia also appears in play:
Manchin remains undecided after meeting her, his office confirmed. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), facing a tough reelection battle this November, said he’s “continuing to evaluate her record” after a similar meeting. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), who is facing attacks from a GOP opponent over the nominee, didn’t respond when asked about Sohn.
How are telecom lobbyists doing this? Well, one, as noted above, is by spreading false claims through co-opted policy groups and op-eds that she has a bad record on media and minority diversity (again, that’s patently false if you ask anybody who knows Sohn or spends 5 minutes looking at her policy history). They’ve also gotten the Fraternal Order of Police to attack Sohn with some feverish gibberish.
More recently, the telecom lobby appears to have hired former Senator Heidi Heitkamp (who’s been having an…interesting year) to run a crunch time social media campaign under the banner of something called the “One Country Project”:
Meanwhile, a political advocacy group headed by former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) just launched a $250,000 social media advertising campaign against Sohn, set to run for three weeks starting over the congressional recess. This group, the One Country Project, has accused Sohn of dismissing rural America, pointing to comments in which the nominee accused policymakers of “disproportionately” steering broadband dollars to those communities and giving urban dwellers the short shrift — an attack coming as Biden this week launches a “rural infrastructure tour,” including a focus on broadband.
Only after the Politico piece ran, did the group publicly announce it had launched a “six figure ad campaign aimed at raising awareness” by trying to claim that Sohn — who, again, has spent years trying to ensure even coverage of broadband to neglected U.S. communities (something you can confirm with five minutes of research) — is somehow the enemy of rural America:
The group, which of course doesn’t share funding sources, basically takes a bunch of Sohn comments, then distorts them to claim she hates rural America:
Sohn has made several public comments that call into question her commitment to rural communities, such as her testimony to the House Energy & Commerce Committee where she stated “policymakers have focused disproportionately on broadband deployment in rural areas of the United States” or her claims that FCC broadband policies have “made it really easy” for rural broadband companies “to basically suck at the government teat to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.”
If you actually read Sohn’s testimony, Sohn was pointing out that U.S. telecom policy (which basically involves throwing unchecked billions at AT&T and Comcast in exchange for networks that are always mysteriously half delivered) isn’t exclusively a rural U.S. problem. Urban broadband gaps remain a significant problem, and broadband affordability impacts rural and urban Americans alike.
Why a group purportedly self-tasked with representing the concerns of rural Americans would actively misrepresent Sohn’s positions isn’t clear, but it’s not particularly difficult to guess given the variety of other flimsy attacks on Sohn of late, and the telecom and media (Rupert Murdoch) industry’s long history of using proxy groups as public policy marionettes to impact legislation and policy decisions.
Some of this falls on the shoulders of the Biden policy advisors.
They lagged on even announcing the Sohn choice for nine months, showcasing precisely the level of importance they’ve affixed to telecom and media policy. They could have announced her appointment alongside the speedy appointment of FTC boss Lina Khan, whose nomination terrified telecom execs afraid of reform. They’ve also repeatedly stumbled on pushing the confirmation vote over the line.
Still, while many Biden appointments have been hit or miss, Sohn is hugely qualified and widely respected across both sides of the aisle in DC. Sohn’s so popular, and the goals of telecom monopolies (less competition, more revenue, no oversight) are so viciously unpopular, they’ve been forced to fabricate flimsy complaints and funnel them through proxy organizations in a bid to derail the popular nomination.
If Sohn’s nomination is scuttled, it will come at the hands of Senators Joe Manchin, Catherine Cortez Masto, Kyrsten Sinema, or Mark Kelly, who will, not coincidentally, parrot the false justifications for opposing Sohn’s nomination concocted by the telecom lobby. And, in the process, scuttle a popular nominee with a very clear track record of supporting all the things they’ll profess to be concerned with.
If successful, it will set a high water mark for modern U.S. corruption and the games we play to pretend that’s not a problem. It will leave a permanent and violent scar on the political and policy landscape, loudly advertising once again that the voice of the public (which overwhelmingly supports holding telecom and media giants meaningfully accountable) simply doesn’t matter in our purported democracy.
Filed Under: big telecom, broadband, catherine cortez masto, consumer protection, digital divide, dnc, fcc, gigi sohn, gop, joe manchin, krysten sinema, mark kelly, net neutrality, republican, telecom