Broadband companies are spending an ‘unseemly amount of money’ to sink key FCC candidate, critics say


President Joe Biden has crafted an ambitious regulatory agenda to limit monopoly power and reduce the prices Americans pay for everyday goods and services, but delays in appointments to key regulatory positions have opened the door to door to opponents of stricter oversight of the industry to thwart these efforts.

Take the example of Gigi Sohn, Biden’s pick to fill the vacant seat on the Federal Communications Commission, who, if confirmed, would swing the agency under Democratic control for the first time in more than six years. .

Sohn’s supporters say she has powerful enemies in the internet service industry who have helped organize diverse opposition to her candidacy because she supports tighter regulation of the broadband internet market.

Greg Guice, director of government affairs at Public Knowledge, the Sohn-founded public advocacy group that promotes competition in digital services markets, argued that cable companies are behind two ostensibly “grassroots” campaigns against she, mounted by the Hispanic and Latin American civil authorities. the human rights group League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the One Country Project, a rural-focused nonprofit founded by former centrist Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

“There is an unseemly amount of money being spent promoting misinformation about him,” Guice said. “These criticisms are not based on any facts.”

A country runs a political action committee capable of raising unlimited funds from undisclosed donors, which it can then spend on independent political activities, including campaigns like the one it recently launched against Gigi Sohn in an attempt to convince centrist Democratic senators to vote. against Sohn’s confirmation.

Sohn will need the vote of every Democrat in an evenly divided Senate to join the FCC, assuming all 50 Republicans vote against her.

One country pointed to recent congressional testimony in which Sohn argued that policymakers “have disproportionately focused on rolling out broadband in rural areas” as evidence of a lack of commitment to rural communities .

Sohn’s testimony, however, does not argue that the federal government should not fund broadband rollout, but that the primary barrier for Americans accessing broadband in rural and urban areas is affordability, not convenience. infrastructure.

His statement to Congress cites an article written by John Horrigan, former director of research for the FCC’s National Broadband Plan Task Force, on the rural-focused news site, the Daily Yonder, in which he claims that “the Household economics is a more important driver of non-adoption decisions than geography.

One Country does not disclose its donors, but Time Magazine reported that Heitkamp used “leftover campaign money” to start the organization, while AT&T Inc. T,
and Comcast Corp. CMCSA,
were two of the top contributors to former senators when she served in the upper house. One country did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

AT&T declined to comment for this report, while Comcast did not respond to a request for comment.

Latino rights organization LULAC’s opposition to Sohn’s appointment has also raised accusations of conflicts of interest, with influential tech policy blog TechDirt saying it’s an example of the industry co-opting groups civil rights advocates to promote pro-business policies.

“These groups are given as a shiny new hub of events in exchange for repeating any political position that comes their way, even if it significantly undermines their constituents,” wrote TechDirt’s Karl Bode.

LULAC CEO Sindy Benavides told MarketWatch that her organization’s opposition to Sohn dates back to 2009, when she was president of Public Knowledge, for comments by the organization’s communications director criticizing minority groups for their opposition to net neutrality regulations.

Benavides also pointed to the FCC’s decision under former Chairman Tom Wheeler to restrict so-called “sidecar” deals that she says have helped smaller minority-owned broadcasters partner with larger companies to lower the costs. Sohn was an adviser to Wheeler at the time, when the FCC argued that these joint-selling agreements helped large broadcasters circumvent the ownership limits of local broadcast stations.

Although LULAC has long partnered with telecommunications companies including AT&T, Verizon Communications VZ,
and Comcast, Benavides said its relationship with those companies predates Sohn’s appointment and that the organization also works with other companies that take different stances on internet regulation, such as Google parent Alphabet Inc. GOOG,

“Our decisions are not based on the funding given to the organization, our decisions are based on our members and how they vote on our political platform,” Benavides said.

Andrew Lokay, research analyst at Beacon Policy Advisors, told MarketWatch that opponents of Sohn are taking advantage of Biden’s delay in nominating Sohn and the busy Senate schedule to try to frustrate his nomination, but there are little evidence that Democrats will break ranks to vote. against her.

“Our base case is that it will be confirmed, because net neutrality is one of the top Democratic primaries for the FCC,” he said, adding that Sohn’s confirmation at the FCC will open the door to a return to net neutrality regulation and broader broadband oversight. internet service and pricing.

The One Country Project is targeting ads in rural states with vulnerable Democratic senators like Arizona’s Mark Kelly and Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto, but Lokay said until there’s an indication those Democrats will vote against her, investors should expect Sohn to eventually be confirmed.

“An FCC nomination won’t be on many people’s minds when they go to the polls, that’s a bigger question when it comes to how telcos view their political contributions going forward. “, added Lokay. “I wouldn’t be surprised if those remaining Democratic senators kept their cards close to the vest until election day.”


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