Telecom Lobbyists Are About To Scuttle The Nomination Of A Popular Reformer To The FCC And Nobody Much Seems To Care

ByJosephine J. Romero

Jun 9, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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from the The-AT&T-States-of-America dept

We’ve noted for a few months how telecom and media giants are engaged in a full court press to scuttle the nomination of popular anti-monopolist and reformer Gigi Sohn to the FCC. Sohn’s broadly popular and highly qualified, so the telecom lobby has taken to running a broad smear campaign falsely accusing her of hating cops, rural America, and free speech.

Even Rupert Murdoch’s former top lobbyist has pointed out that the campaign is gross. Yet by most indications, it looks like it’s going to work:

Congress hasn’t budged on President Biden’s pick for a key tie-breaking FCC seat as the clock ticks down on the chance for a vote… sources tell Axios that Democrats don’t currently have the votes after nearly eight months of drama around her nomination.

If Sohn’s nomination is scuttled, there will be plenty of blame to go around. It took the Biden administration nine months to even nominate Sohn, giving large telecom and media companies worried about reform plenty of time to galvanize the astroturfed opposition.

Numerous sources have complained to me that Sohn also received absolutely zero messaging or fire support from the Biden administration during the relentless lobbying attacks, something Axios confirms but the White House (who did have time to appoint former Comcast lobbyist and Biden fundraiser David Cohen the Ambassador to Canada) tries to deny:

One public interest advocate told Axios the White House urged Democrats to confirm FTC nominee Alvaro Bedoya, who was confirmed on a party-line vote in May, to give that agency the majority necessary to take action on inflation. There hasn’t been the same push for Sohn, the advocate said. “The absence of effort from the White House to see this through by pushing a nominee through is frustrating beyond belief,” the advocate told Axios.

One reason for the lack of urgency is corruption. But another is the fact that “big tech” has sucked all the policy oxygen out of the room in both DC and the press, thanks in part to the GOP’s performative outrage on the content moderation front. The entirety of “antitrust reform” has fixated on big tech. Caring about telecom monopolization is just painfully out of fashion in tech policy and DC.

The Biden administration threw $42 billion at the problem via the infrastructure bill, then just seemingly forgot about the fact that the FCC needs a competent voting majority to implement most of those improvements (like improving broadband mapping and subsequently doling out broadband grants).

Relegated to a half sentence in the Axios piece is the entire reason they’re trying so hard to scuttle Sohn’s nomination in the first place: companies like AT&T and Comcast want the FCC to remain gridlocked at 2-2 commissioners so that meaningful reform (or restoration of things like net neutrality or media consolidation rules) remains impossible.

The opposition to Sohn is broadly manufactured and is rooted in corruption. That corruption has aligned effectively all GOP Senators against Sohn (despite the fact Sohn in reality has fairly broad, bipartisan support). And telecom lobbyists are now targeting vulnerable and/or corrupt Democrat Senators like Joe Manchin in a bid to kill the nomination entirely.

There are still some tactical options for the Biden White house (like a potential recess appointment), but it’s not clear if the administration has the backbone to use them given its apathy so far.

If Sohn’s nomination is scuttled, the FCC will likely remain in partisan 2-2 voting gridlock well into next year, precisely how the telecom lobby wants it after four years of favors from Trump incorporated. And whoever replaces Sohn in the nomination process will likely need to be a feckless centrist who’ll be dramatically less interested in rocking the boat on issues like net neutrality or monopolization.

The whole saga isn’t getting much press attention under the din of coverage of NFT scams and Elon Musk brain farts, but the fact that the telecom lobby has effectively lobotomized telecom consumer protection for going on six years is important all the same.

If Sohn’s nomination is scuttled thanks to a bunch of manufactured grievances from the likes of AT&T, the Fraternal Order of Police and Heidi Heitkamp, it will be a high water mark for telecom corruption, and positively fatal to any remaining public trust in competent federal telecom policy.

There’s a reason that states like Washington, Maine and California are taking the lead on stuff like broadband consumer protection, broadband mapping, and monopoly reform, and it’s primarily because Congress, as you can clearly see across numerous other issues, has become too corrupt to function.

Filed Under: big tech, big telecom, broadband, corruption, digital divide, fcc, gigi sohn, high speed internet, infrastructure bill, net neutrality, telecom

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