US fails to appoint FCC Commissioner after 16 months of trying

Gigi Sohn has withdrawn from consideration as the fifth Federal Communications Commissioner, citing attacks from lobbyists as the main reason.

Scott Bicheno

March 8, 2023

4 Min Read
Federal Communications Commission headquarters - Washington, DC USA

Gigi Sohn has withdrawn from consideration as the fifth Federal Communications Commissioner, citing attacks from lobbyists as the main reason.

For some reason Sohn chose to make her announcement exclusively through the Washington Post. “Last night after discussions with my family and careful consideration, I made the decision to ask President Biden to withdraw my nomination to the Federal Communications Commission,” she wrote.

“When I accepted his nomination over sixteen months ago, I could not have imagined that legions of cable and media industry lobbyists, their bought-and-paid-for surrogates, and dark money political groups with bottomless pockets would distort my over 30-year history as a consumer advocate into an absurd caricature of blatant lies. The unrelenting, dishonest and cruel attacks on my character and my career as an advocate for the public interest have taken an enormous toll on me and my family.”

While that sounds unpleasant and regrettable, it feels a bit disingenuous of her to say she couldn’t have imagined it happening. As far as we can tell, the FCC has always been ridiculously politicised, with the five Commissioners always being comprised of a majority that openly support the party in government. Even more regrettable is the role of lobbying in politics, but that’s also priced-in.

Reading between the lines it seems Sohn has realised her nomination will never go through, for whatever reasons, and decided to score some points on the way out. Her choice of a fairly partisan newspaper as the vehicle to do so supports that feeling. Inevitably, much of the commentary about this move is divided along partisan lines but, regardless of political leaning, the failure of the US system revealed by this protracted saga is worthy of criticism.

It’s not obvious why the appointment of a senior telecoms regulator requires the approval of the US Senate, but that is apparently the case. One of the main reasons Sohn eventually threw in the towel may have been the continued opposition of Democrat Senator Joe Manchin. We have no idea of the extent to which Manchin was influenced by the sinister ‘dark money’ Sohn referred to, but here are his stated reasons for opposing her.

“For nearly 100 years, the FCC has been an independent, nonpartisan regulator of all forms of communication in American life, from radio to television to satellite. Unfortunately, over the last several years, it has become increasingly politicized,” wrote Manchin in a recent press release.

“Especially now, the FCC must remain above the toxic partisanship that Americans are sick and tired of, and Ms. Sohn has clearly shown she is not the person to do that. For those reasons, I cannot support her nomination to the FCC, and I urge the Biden Administration to put forth a nominee who can bring us together, not drive us apart.”

The start of the release had this to say about Sohn: “Ms. Sohn has faced unprecedented, bipartisan opposition to her nomination as a result of her years of partisan activism, inflammatory statements online, and work with far-left groups. She has also spent many years as a public interest advocate, using similarly inflammatory language on social media.”

Again, it seems disingenuous to accuse an FCC nominee of being partisan since that’s baked into the process. The issue for Manchin seems to be that Sohn is even more so than usual, but that is an arbitrary line in the sand. Having said that, if Sohn had telegraphed her positions on certain telecoms matters, you can’t blame those who disagreed with her for lobbying against her appointment. Again, that’s just how the system works over there.

Elsewhere, the Federal Trade Commission, which has been going through a similar deadlock, seems to have massively over-reached in demanding Twitter identify all journalists granted access to Twitter’s internal documents as part of the Twitter Files expose. We know this thanks to a scoop from the WSJ, which reveals that the FTC fears Twitter under Elon Musk lacks the resources to censor (or ‘protect users’) to the FTC’s satisfaction. By pure coincidence, the FT has reported that the EU is unhappy with the censorship levels on Twitter too.

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While we’re happy to criticise the obscene politicisation of everything in the US, much of the rest of the world seems to be catching up. The China/5G issue in combination with the state power grab resulting from the Covid pandemic seems to have resulted in even the most minor bits of telecoms policy becoming partisan. This inevitably results in the kind of tit-for-tat escalation that blighted Sohn’s candidacy and, ultimately, regulatory deadlock that is very damaging to the whole telecoms industry.


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About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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