I have known Gigi Sohn going back two decades. I'm friends with Gigi Sohn on both Facebook and on LinkedIn. I was thrilled when I heard the news two years ago that Gigi Sohn was nominated to become a commissioner on the FCC.
I thought this was fantastic news. A champion of the public interest, who has previously worked at the FCC, would become a sitting commissioner -- working on crafting good policies, helping to restore net neutrality, helping expand low-cost broadband at a time when America's internet infrastructure buckled under the strain of increased internet usage during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sixteen months later, after a long and bruising fight, Gigi announced that she was withdrawing her nomination -- the polite Washington way to say that the nomination is no more. Gigi Sohn won't serve as an FCC commissioner. We got hints in the days before this happened that it was going to happen, but it doesn't lessen the blow any. This outcome is particularly painful, especially since it seemed a real possibility early on -- with a Democrat in the White House and a Democrat majority in the Senate.
What happened? In brief, establishment media and telecom interests and their allies in Congress -- along with a new entrant in FCC matters, the Fraternal Order of Police -- ran a slanderous campaign that dragged out a vote over more than two years and an unprecedented two nominations and three hearings. The announcement of a "no" vote from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin effectively killed the nomination. (FCC commissioner nominations must win Senate approval in order to be seated.)
It's easy enough to whine and moan and complain and kvetch. There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth since this loss. The real question is -- what do we do next? The answer is that, as nauseating as it may sound, we continue to work, as we've always done, and there's a lot we can do. Here are some short-term actions:
We call on the Biden administration to nominate another qualified and excellent candidate. There is already a campaign underway on this front. (Sidebar: The double-nuisance of losing this nomination is that there doesn't seem to be a backup plan, despite the fact that the opposition has made a campaign to block and delay a host of Biden-backed nominations to various government positions. This campaign made a point to highlight Gigi Sohn. We are back to the starting point, and have lost two years in the meantime.)
We expand the Democratic majority in the Senate to get the necessary votes for future candidates. At this point in time, that does not look encouraging in the next cycle in 2024, with Democrats in a very unfavorable Senate map.
We work to expose some of the sordid connections involving the scum that killed Gigi's nomination. Here we can take some inspiration with some of the recent work regarding the journalism about the U.S. Supreme Court. What's not news, but should be, is that former (Democrat!) Senator and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is a registered lobbyist for Comcast. One of his former staffers, Melissa Maxfield, is Comcast's head lobbyist. (And I moved this month and got new internet with my internet service provider, Comcast, ugh.)
Here are some longer-term actions:
We do what we can to weaken the opposition. Antitrust, at long last, is a topic of discussion. The phenomenon of cord-cutting is affecting the cable television cash cow such that telecom companies are relying more and more on internet connectity for their profits, and still have the looming specter of other rivals. Which brings us to...
We work for and push for and build municipal internet. This can deprive funds from the opposition, which is why the opposition has fought it vigorously in the past including in Illinois. In Chicago, we may have a choice opportunity with a new mayoral administration that would be (presumably, hopefully) sympathetic, assuming we can organize in the coming years. Not to assume that the effort will be easy or quick -- it will probably be neither easy nor quick, given the lobbying muscle of the opposition -- but the terrain among local Chicago elected officials is far more favorable than it has been in a long time. We should do what we can to take advantage. Besides, I'd rather give my money to a municipal internet project than to Comcast, even if it cost more (and they usually cost less).
We change the social structures that disincentivize being nice. Rather than complain about Tom Daschle and Melissa Maxfield, we build institutions that make it harder or impossible to have the power that they hold. This is a very long term action, which would take years or decades or centuries, but we have to start and make this a priority. I'm happy to say that this is something I've increasingly taken up.
Gigi herself has continued to work in spite of the loss, and would encourage us all to do no less. And also, remember this: Even if Gigi got on the FCC, the opposition would not have rolled over and given up. They would have fought and fought and fought. We should do no different.
Viva Gigi Sohn!
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