from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept
Media and telecom giants have been desperately trying to stall the nomination of Gigi Sohn to the FCC. Both desperately want to keep the Biden FCC gridlocked at 2-2 Commissioners thanks to the rushed late 2020 Trump appointment of Nathan Simington to the Commission. Both industries most assuredly don’t want the Biden FCC to do popular things like restore the FCC’s consumer protection authority, net neutrality, or media consolidation rules. But because Sohn is so popular, they’ve had a hell of a time coming up with any criticisms that make any coherent sense.
One desperate claim being spoon fed to GOP lawmakers is that Sohn wants to “censor conservatives,” despite the opposite being true: Sohn has considerable support from conservatives for protecting speech and fostering competition and diversity in media (even if she disagrees with them). Another lobbying talking point being circulated is that because Sohn briefly served on the board of the now defunct Locast, she’s somehow incapable of regulating things like retransmission disputes objectively. Despite the claim being a stretch, Sohn has agreed to recuse herself from such issues for the first three years of her term.
Hoping to seize on the opportunity, former FCC boss turned top cable lobbyist Mike Powell is now trying to claim that because Sohn has experience working on consumer protection issues at both Public Knowledge and the FCC (she helped craft net neutrality rules under Tom Wheeler), she should also be recused from anything having to do with telecom companies. It’s a dumb Hail Mary from a revolving door lobbyist whose only interest is in preventing competent oversight of clients like Comcast:
“He said it is not clear why those would be the only issues from which she would recuse herself, ?given the breadth of issues in which Public Knowledge was involved? under Sohn. He said the recusal should ?logically extend? to all the matters she advocated for at Public Knowledge, or none.
Second, he said: ?Next, in the more recent years since her service at the Commission during the Obama administration, Ms. Sohn has been publicly involved on matters of direct interest to our membership. There is no logical basis for treating these matters differently from the retransmission and copyright issues for purposes of recusal.”
Facebook, Amazon, and Google all tried similar acts of desperation to thwart FTC boss Lina Khan, suggesting that because she opined on antitrust matters as an influential academic, she was utterly incapable of regulating these companies objectively. But both have a deep understanding of the sectors they’re tasked with regulating. Both are also the opposite of revolving door policymakers with financial conflicts of interest, which you’ll note none of these critics have the slightest issue with.
Of course telecom and big broadcasters aren’t the only industries terrified of competent, popular women in positions of authority. Hollywood (and the politicians paid to love them) are also clearly terrified of someone competent at the FCC. The Directors Guild of America is also urging the Senate Commerce Committee to kill Sohn’s nomination. Their justification for their opposition? Sohn once attempted to (gasp) bring competition to the cable box:
“Hollander pointed to one of the proposals that Sohn championed when she served as counselor to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler during Barack Obama?s second term. Wheeler and Sohn saw the proposal, introduced in 2016, as a way to free cable and satellite subscribers from having to pay monthly rental fees for their set top box. The proposal would have required that pay TV providers offer a free app to access the channels, but ran into objections from the MPAA, which said it would be akin to a ?compulsory copyright license.? It?s unlikely that the proposal would come up again in that form, as it was sidelined when Jessica Rosenworcel, who now is chairwoman of the FCC, declined to support it.”
You might recall the 2016 proposal in question tried to force open the cable industry’s dated monopoly over cable boxes by requiring cable companies provide their existing services in app form (it wasn’t “free”). You might also recall that the plan failed in part because big copyright, with the help of the Copyright Office, falsely claimed the proposal was an attack on the foundations of copyright. It wasn’t. But the claims, hand in hand with all kinds of other bizarre and false claims from media and cable (including the false claim the proposal would harm minorities), killed it before it really could take its first steps.
I had my doubts about the proposal. Streaming competition will inevitably kill the cable box if we wait long enough, so it would seemingly make sense to focus the FCC’s limited resources on more pressing issues: like regional broadband monopolization and the resulting dearth of competition. But the FCC’s doomed cable box proposal most absolutely was not an “attack on copyright.” Companies just didn’t want a cash cow killed (cable boxes generate about $20 billion in fee revenue annually), and the usual suspects were just absolutely terrified of disruption, competition, and change.
Congress was supposed to vote Sohn’s nomination forward on Wednesday, but that has been delayed because Senator Ben Ray Luj?n suffered a stroke (he’s expected to make a full recovery). Industry opponents to Sohn’s nomination then exploited that stroke to convince Senator Maria Cantwell to postpone the vote further so they could hold yet another hearing. Industry wanted an additional hearing so they can either try to scuttle the nomination with bogus controversies they spoon feed to select lawmakers, or simply delay the vote even further.
We’re now a year into Biden’s first term and his FCC still doesn’t have a voting majority. If you’re a telecom or shitty media giant (looking at you, Rupert), that gridlock is intentional; it prevents the agency from restoring any of the unpopular favors doled out during Trumpism, be it the neutering of the FCC’s consumer protection authority, or decades old media consolidation rules crafted with bipartisan support. It’s once again a shining example of how U.S. gridlock and dysfunction are a lobbyist-demanded feature, not a bug or some inherent, unavoidable part of the American DNA.
These companies, organizations, and politicians aren’t trying to thwart Sohn’s nomination because they have meaningful, good faith concerns. Guys like Mike Powell couldn’t give any less of a shit about ethics or what’s appropriate. They’re trying to thwart Sohn’s nomination because she knows what she’s doing, values competition and consumer welfare, and threatens them with the most terrifying of possibilities if you’re a monopoly or bully: competent, intelligent oversight.