Six months have passed since the Biden Administration signed an Executive Order to restore Net Neutrality at the FCC. And three months have passed since the President nominated net neutrality champion Gigi Sohn, a member of the EFF board, to the FCC. (Sohn will leave the EFF board if she is confirmed.) Yet Sohn’s nomination is still stuck at the Senate Commerce Committee over apparent reluctance from the committee leadership, including its chair Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and ranking member Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), to challenge Comcast- and AT&T- generated opposition—Sohn faces a second hearing at the direction of the Chair in response to yet another call for delay by Ranking Member Wicker. Without Sohn, the FCC will not have a working majority, potentially for months at the moment.
Why allow a wildly unpopular industry to stall a pro-consumer nominee when Americans can’t wait another moment for fast, modern internet? Why continue a status quo that requires children to do their homework in parking lots to use the WiFi from fast food restaurants, or allows black neighborhoods to be digitally redlined by incumbent ISPs? Restoring net neutrality is overwhelmingly supported by the public; 76% of the public believes broadband is as critical to their daily lives as water and electricity. These things can be addressed by a fully staffed FCC. It’s easy to see why the industry is trying to stall Sohn’s confirmation. But their stall tactics are only successful if Senate Commerce leadership cooperates.
Delays Are Part of a Coordinated Attack on a Fully Functional FCC
Gigi Sohn has more than 30 years of work in promoting consumer focused policies as a public advocate in Washington, D.C. Her nomination has broad support, with more than 200 organizations, business trade groups, and state legislators endorsing her confirmation. It comes as no surprise that the industry incumbents she challenged as a consumer advocate, from the copyright industries to Comcast and AT&T, oppose her confirmation.
What is surprising is that the minority party’s constant calls for delay are being allowed to stall the nomination process. Chair Cantwell has let this bad-faith obstructionism continue for too long. By comparison, President Trump’s nomination and confirmation of his last FCC Commissioner, Nate Simington, took approximately three months.
Chair Cantwell could have already called for a vote, but didn’t. At each step of the way, Chair Cantwell has accommodated Ranking Member Wicker’s calls for delay—even as the press reported that the entire delay strategy is a coordinated lobbyist effort to prevent the FCC from obtaining a working majority.
Now with the unfortunate news of Senator Lujan now going on a temporary medical absence, the Senate Commerce Committee cannot now advance any nominees if they face unified Republican opposition. Knowing they had only the narrowest possible majority, the Senate Commerce Democrats allowed major industry players to dictate the pace of Sohn’s confirmation, resulting in the current situation.
While it’s tempting to blame obstructionist politics, it’s ultimately the majority party, and notably the Chair, who decide when to act. Failure to confront Republican delay tactics means that net neutrality regulations and other consumer-friendly work the American people desperately need from the FCC are in jeopardy.
We call upon Chair Cantwell to see the calls for delays for what they are – obstruction – and to move Sohn’s confirmation at the next opportunity and call the vote. The public expects no less.