Gigi Sohn cites urgency of fixing broadband map in third Senate hearing
Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden's choice for fifth FCC commissioner, sat through a third Senate hearing on Tuesday afternoon, 15 months after her nomination and over two years into Biden's presidency.
The hearing served primarily as an opportunity for Republicans who oppose Sohn to rehash a range of concerns – from a retweet calling former President Trump a white supremacist, to her ties to defunct live broadcast streamer Locast, to various positions held by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) where she sits on the board, and more.
Sohn, at times visibly tired of those attacks, continued to defend her record and pointed to myriad conservatives who support her nomination. One such supporter is former chairman of the Rural Utility Services Department of Agriculture during the Trump administration, Chad Rupe, who appeared via video to deliver a statement in support of Sohn's nomination.
"For the past five years, Gigi has worked closely with state broadband leaders from states as different as Vermont, Nebraska and Louisiana, providing them with council and connections with federal broadband leaders," said Rupe. "In her previous two confirmation hearings, Gigi pledged to be the FCC state liaison. I have no doubt she'll keep that promise. Such a role is critical now that the states have primary responsibility for ensuring that the billions of dollars provided in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is well spent."
Map determines funding
While almost nothing new or of substance was discussed during the three-hour hearing, Sohn used the opportunity to remind Senators what's at stake given the FCC's role in improving the national broadband map that will determine how much funding each state gets from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. The NTIA is set to allocate those funds according to the FCC broadband map on June 30.
"One of my frustrations of not having been confirmed yet is I would love to be able to help the FCC ensure that they have the most accurate broadband map that they can possibly have," Sohn said. "Now, I can't fix it myself. But I have unbelievable relationships with the states including many of the states of folks that sit on this dais, and I would love to help improve that broadband map."
She added: "Without an accurate broadband map, the money that is going to be spent by the Commerce Department is not going to go to the right places. This is not to criticize the FCC. I think they're doing the best they can with what they have. But I could be an enormous help in that regard."
Sohn later added that the "first thing" she would do is offer her assistance to Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to "do anything that it takes to make those maps as accurate as possible" before June 30.
"That June 30 date is a really, really critical date and that's why time is really of the essence to get me confirmed because ... if I don't get confirmed at all, there's not going to be a fifth person on the FCC in time to do anything about those maps," Sohn said.
Using her ability to help fix the maps was a smart strategy for Sohn, given that Senators on both sides of the aisle have gone on record with their concerns about inaccuracies with the FCC's broadband map and the need to rectify those problems before the NTIA allocates BEAD funds.
Nevertheless, the argument didn't catch on with Republicans on the committee, many of whom used their time to express why they will not vote for her confirmation.
In a statement released during the hearing, the consumer advocacy organization Free Press called the hearing "a coordinated smear campaign."
"While the deep-pocketed telecom and broadcast lobby has worked with right-wing operatives to falsely portray Sohn as divisive, her years of experience tell a different story — about a highly regarded expert who has reached across political divides to support policies that benefit the public," Free Press stated.
Sohn, too, referenced telecom lobbyists as obstructing her nomination in her opening statement.
"I believe deeply that regulated entities should not choose their regulator. Unfortunately, that is the exact intent of the past 15 months of false and misleading attacks on my record and my character," said Sohn.
"My industry opponents have hidden behind dark money groups and surrogates because they fear a pragmatic, pro-competition, pro-consumer policymaker who will support policies that will bring more, faster, and lower-priced broadband and new voices to your constituents," she said.
If confirmed, Sohn will be the fifth Commissioner on the FCC, giving the commission a Democratic majority that could then vote to reconsider Title II rules and net neutrality guidelines, among other contentious industry issues. She would hold a five-year term.
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— Nicole Ferraro, editor, Light Reading, and host of "The Divide" podcast.