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U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, today discussed his concerns with the nomination of Gigi Sohn to serve on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Thune highlighted Ms. Sohn’s radical position on net neutrality, and he noted that Americans deserve an FCC nominee who can do his or her job impartially, regardless of the matter before the commission.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, the Senate Commerce Committee recently voted on the nomination of Gigi Sohn to be a member of the Federal Communications Commission.
“I voted against her nomination, for a number of serious reasons, as did the 13 other Republican committee members.
“And I was deeply disappointed that not one of my Democrat colleagues on the committee stepped forward to affirm what should be glaringly obvious: that Ms. Sohn is not an appropriate candidate for a position on the Federal Communications Commission.
“Mr. President, one substantial concern I have with Ms. Sohn’s nomination is her extreme position on net neutrality.
“Back in 2014, the Obama administration decided that the federal government wasn’t regulating the internet enough.
“And so in 2015, the Obama Federal Communications Commission passed the Open Internet Order, which dramatically expanded the federal government’s power over the internet.
“The justification for this massive regulatory expansion was ‘net neutrality.’
“Now, net neutrality is a concept that enjoys broad support in both parties.
“I support net neutrality and rules that prevent blocking, throttling, or the paid prioritization of internet traffic.
“I don’t think a major service provider should be able to block a small news startup.
“But what the Obama FCC did in 2015 went far beyond net neutrality.
“The Obama FCC asserted broad new government powers over the internet using rules that were designed for telephone monopolies back during the Great Depression.
“This opened the door to a whole host of new internet regulations, including price regulations.
“And unsurprisingly, broadband investment declined as a result.
“That was a problem for Americans generally, who benefit when the United States is at the forefront of internet growth and expansion.
“And it was particularly bad news for Americans in rural states like South Dakota.
“Getting broadband to rural communities is already more challenging than installing broadband in cities or suburbs, and the possibility of heavier regulations acted as a further disincentive to expanding access.
“Fast forward to 2017, and the Federal Communications Commission under Chairman Pai voted to repeal the heavy-handed internet regulation passed by the Obama FCC.
“And here’s what happened:
“Broadband investment rebounded.
“And broadband access expanded.
“Internet speeds increased.
“And our nation positioned itself at the forefront of the 5G revolution.
“While European internet providers were slowing internet speeds during the pandemic, American providers were increasing them.
“All this, despite the repeal of the heavy-handed internet regulation Democrats claimed we needed – or, more accurately, because of the repeal of the heavy-handed regulation Democrats claimed we needed.
“Mr. President, why do I go into all this history?
“Well, because Ms. Sohn not only wants to bring back the heavy-handed internet regulation of the Obama administration, but she wants to go further and have the FCC regulate broadband rates and set data caps.
“Just as service providers are working to implement nationwide 5G networks, Ms. Sohn wants to reinstate rules that will discourage broadband investment and diminish access opportunities for Americans outside of major cities and suburban areas.
“That’s a big problem.
“The light-touch approach to internet regulation that the federal government has historically taken has resulted in growth and access – both of which would be threatened by Ms. Sohn’s agenda.
“Now, Mr. President, while I was very pleased that the FCC under Chairman Pai repealed President Obama’s heavy-handed internet regulation, I believe that the best solution for the long term is for Congress to step in and pass bipartisan net-neutrality legislation.
“Swings in net neutrality policy from administration to administration do not encourage long-term broadband investment.
“And I believe that there is bipartisan support for a long-term legislative solution.
“But not, it would seem, from Ms. Sohn, who has openly disparaged bipartisan work on this issue.
“Oh, I think Ms. Sohn would be fine if Congress produces a bill that’s to her liking.
“But I have serious concerns that if she thought a bipartisan solution didn’t go far enough, she would ignore the will of Congress and use her position at the FCC to impose the heavy-handed regulatory regime she favors.
“Mr. President, as a resident of a rural state, I’m also concerned about Ms. Sohn’s position on expanding broadband access to rural communities – an issue every member of this body cares deeply about.
“She’s been publicly hostile to the efforts of rural broadband companies in expanding reliable internet access to rural areas, while at the same time supporting the use of scarce government dollars to build new internet networks in already well-served urban areas.
“As someone who has worked long and hard to expand internet access for unserved Americans, I find her hostility to rural broadband companies very troubling.
“The vast majority of these companies have spent years building out reliable networks to some of the most remote parts of the country, allowing more rural areas like those in South Dakota to reap the benefits of advanced services in health care, education, and economic development.
“And it’s not only Republicans who have taken note of her hostility to the needs of rural Americans.
“Our former Democrat colleague from North Dakota has also questioned how one can support rural broadband and Ms. Sohn.
“Mr. President, Ms. Sohn’s policy positions alone would lead me to oppose her nomination.
“But there are other, even more troubling factors that should be leading members of both parties to oppose her nomination.
“To start with, Ms. Sohn was not forthcoming to the Commerce Committee about her past history on the board of a company that was ordered to cease operations after being found in violation of copyright laws.
“This raises serious concerns about her fitness to sit on the FCC.
“After questions were raised about her involvement with this company’s settlement with broadcasters, she did volunteer to recuse herself – if she’s confirmed – on a variety of issues related to broadcasting and copyright violations.
“But why on earth should we choose a commissioner who would have to recuse herself from participating in substantial parts of the FCC’s work?
“How does it serve Americans to have an FCC commissioner who can’t fully do her job?
“Surely there are other qualified nominees who don’t have Ms. Sohn’s conflict of interest.
“But my objections don’t end there.
“While I’m concerned about Ms. Sohn’s having to recuse herself from doing parts of her job, I’m most concerned about whether or not Ms. Sohn can do any part of her job in a fair and impartial manner.
“Ms. Sohn has a history of virulent partisanship and far-left activism, including support for such far-left initiatives as defunding the police.
“She has publicly expressed her disdain for Republicans, and she has a record of outspoken criticism of the very same conservative media outlets that she would be responsible for regulating.
“Perhaps the most notable example is her hostility toward Fox News, which she has referred to as ‘state-sponsored propaganda’ and accused of playing a role in, quote, ‘destroying democracy.’
“And yet we are supposed to believe that she would approach cases involving the Fox Corporation impartially?
“I think it’s pretty clear that would not be the case.
“Mr. President, I don’t expect a Democrat nominee to the FCC to agree with Republicans on all the issues.
“Far from it.
“But I do expect a Democrat nominee to be able to do his or her job, and do it an impartial and unbiased manner.
“In Ms. Sohn, President Biden has nominated someone who cannot fulfill part of the responsibilities of FCC commissioner, and whose record strongly suggests that she cannot be relied upon to fulfill any of her responsibilities in an impartial manner.
“Mr. President, Americans deserve an FCC nominee who can do her job impartially, no matter what the matter before the commission.
“And I hope that if Ms. Sohn’s nomination comes to the floor, at least some of my Democrat colleagues will join Republicans in opposing her nomination.
“We should all be able to agree that virulent partisanship and an inability to fulfill the responsibilities of one’s job are disqualifying characteristics for a role on the FCC.
“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”