Biden faces Republican opposition in trying to fill key FCC position

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s nominee for a key seat on the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) faced extensive Republican criticism at a Senate hearing on Wednesday.

Gigi Sohn, a former senior aide to Tom Wheeler when he was chair of the FCC under President Barack Obama, faced tough questions from Senate Republicans at a second confirmation hearing.

Some Senate Democrats said that some companies and critics want to prevent the telecommunications regulator from acting on key issues. “It is part of an effort to deadlock, disarm and disable the FCC,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said.

More than a year after Biden took office, the FCC remains split 2-2 between Republicans and Democrats — preventing action on key issues including restoring landmark open internet neutrality regulations repealed under former President Donald Trump.

Biden waited more than nine months to designate FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as the agency’s permanent chair and to nominate Sohn.

Republicans have questioned Sohn’s role as a board member of a nonprofit that operated a transmission service called Locast that was ordered shut down after four broadcast networks filed a copyright infringement lawsuit. A court filing said the networks were awarded $32 million in statutory damages, but Sohn and documents later made public show that the networks agreed to settle for $700,000.

If confirmed, Sohn has voluntarily agreed to recuse herself on some matters involving retransmission consent and TV broadcast copyright.

Senator Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the committee, who sought Wednesday’s second hearing, said, “The public deserves a regulator they can trust to be impartial in all matters.”

Sohn said opposition to her nomination is “about stopping the FCC from ensuring that the media is diverse and serves the needs of local communities….A deadlocked agency helps almost nobody, save for a few huge corporations. But most importantly, it hurts the American people who need the FCC to make hard decisions.”

The Senate committee is divided 14-14 between Republicans and Democrats. Democratic U.S. Senator Ben Ray Lujan was recently hospitalized after suffering a stroke and is expected to make a full recovery.

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