NAB voices 'serious concerns' about Gigi Sohn's involvement with Locast

Adding a new bump to Gigi Sohn's path to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) expressed "serious concerns" Monday with Sohn's connection to Locast, the now-defunct streamer of local TV broadcast signals.

The NAB noted it does not currently oppose Sohn's nomination (the Senate Commerce Committee is set to consider her nomination at a hearing on December 1). But it believes that its concerns about Sohn's past involvement with Locast – a former thorn in the side of the nation's major TV broadcasters – need to be resolved.

"NAB strongly supports Congress's desire to have a fully seated Federal Communications Commission as soon as possible. Although NAB does not currently oppose the nomination of Gigi Sohn, we have serious concerns about her involvement as one of three directors of the illegal streaming service Locast," NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith said in a statement. "NAB is confident that these concerns can be resolved. However, the ethics agreement that Ms. Sohn submitted to the Senate currently does not adequately address the inherent conflict presented by her recent leadership position at Locast and her potential role as an FCC commissioner."

Smith added that NAB is "actively working with members of the Senate Commerce Committee and the White House to address this conflict and requests that Ms. Sohn submit an amended ethics agreement that meaningfully and effectively addresses this clear and troubling conflict."

Locast battled with US broadcasters

To say that NAB was never a fan of Locast is an understatement. The organization's concerns about Sohn's nomination arrive about a month after Locast, the erstwhile provider of free streams of local broadcast TV feeds, agreed to pay $32 million in statutory damages to settle a copyright lawsuit originally lodged by ABC, CBS, Fox and NBCUniversal.

The US District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a permanent injunction that banned Locast from operating after an earlier court ruling found that Locast's local broadcast TV streaming service was not exempt from copyright rules because it was deemed a commercial operation. Launched in 2018, Locast had accumulated about 3 million registered users before suspending operations on September 2.

The NAB noted that two days after her nomination as commissioner, Sohn entered into a settlement with the plaintiffs in the case that enjoined her from operating Locast in the future or any other service seeking to exploit Congress's nonprofit exemption to the copyright laws.

The organization also pointed out that Sohn was previously recused from considering retransmission consent issues while working as a staff member at the FCC, as she was a signee to the Petition for Rulemaking filed by numerous multichannel video programming distributors that opened the Commission's retransmission consent docket.

Despite the NAB's hesitancy, Sohn, once a top adviser to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, did receive some positive news from the world of broadcasting today. Byron Allen, owner of The Weather Channel and dozens of network-affiliated TV stations, issued an open letter to the US Senate urging lawmakers to confirm Sohn as Commissioner.

"The FCC is charged with promoting diversity of ownership and viewpoints yet has fallen short of achieving a truly diverse media landscape," Allen wrote. "Gigi Sohn understands and is a champion against this inequity ... Whether fighting for an open Internet or for the free speech rights of conservatives with whom she disagrees, Gigi advocates for all people to speak and be heard."

President Biden nominated Jessica Rosenworcel as the FCC's first female Chair (in a permanent capacity) and Sohn as an FCC Commissioner last month. If confirmed, Sohn will be the "first openly LGBTIQ+ Commissioner in the history of the FCC," according to a White House statement.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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