Julie Hollar Media Technology

We Need a Functional FCC

Right now, the agency is deadlocked — which is just peachy for the corporations it regulates. Here’s how to unblock.
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By Julie Hollar / OtherWords

Most Americans don’t think much about the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC. But if you watch TV, use the internet, or own a phone, it plays a major role in your life.

The FCC regulates the airwaves, including the corporations that own your local TV and radio stations. And it plays an important role in making sure the Internet is open, free, secure, and accessible to all — or not.

The FCC is currently deadlocked with four members. Without a fifth, the agency is largely nonfunctional —which is just peachy for the corporations it’s meant to regulate.

President Biden has nominated open media advocate Gigi Sohn to fill that post. She could break that deadlock and make the FCC work better for consumers. But the Senate has failed to confirm her.

Advocates suspect the corporate media lobby is trying to sink the nomination of the staunch consumer advocate.

Sohn’s stalled nomination has gotten remarkably little press — with the notable exception of the Wall Street Journal, which has run three editorials and an op-ed opposing her. The Journal calls Sohn a “media censor” who wants to “silence conservative voices.”

It might seem curious, then, that right-wing outlets like OAN and NewsMax have supported Sohn’s nomination — a fact the Journal waves away, insisting that Sohn “wants less political diversity on the airwaves.

But that’s a tough argument to make when some of the very outlets she supposedly wants to suppress have spoken out in her favor.

The reason Sohn has found right-wing backers — yet the Journal and its owner, billionaire Rupert Murdoch, oppose her — is because this isn’t really a right vs. left battle. It’s a big vs. small battle.

Sohn has worked for decades in communications policy advocating for an open and accessible Internet. She was a top aide at the FCC during the Obama administration, helping implement net neutrality rules that were later repealed under Trump.

Net neutrality ensures that broadband providers have to provide equal data speeds to all companies, blocking them from offering “fast lanes” for big corporations that can pay extra while throttling others. This unequal access would give unfair advantages to big corporations — like Murdoch’s sprawling empire, which also includes Fox News — and stifle competition from smaller outfits.

Perhaps even more concerning for TV network OAN — and NewsMax, which also has a TV channel — is media conglomerate control over the airwaves.

Sohn spoke out against Sinclair Broadcast Group‘s attempted merger with Tribune Media Company, which would have dramatically consolidated the local broadcast TV market until mounting public opposition stopped it.

According to the independent media advocacy group Free Press, the Journal isn’t the only media company working to block Sohn’s appointment.

Cable and internet giant Comcast, they report, recently hired lobbyists with close ties to Arizona and West Virginia to work on telecom policy. Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin are seen as key swing votes on Sohn’s nomination.

Consumers now pay more for the internet since net neutrality was repealed. In all likelihood, these big corporations want to stop Sohn from bringing it back.

“The industry serves to benefit from Gigi not moving forward and the FCC delaying its push for net neutrality and other government regulations,” telecom lobbyist John Feehery told the Washington Examiner. “This helps their bottom line in the next few months by delaying regulations, because the FCC would be gridlocked and slowed down on these issues,”

The FCC needs to fill its fifth seat to do its critical work regulating the country’s media infrastructure. Sohn is clearly qualified. The Senate needs to confirm her.

Julie Hollar

Julie Hollar is the senior analyst and managing editor for Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR.org).

3 comments

  1. Consumers (sic) pay more for everything because of capitalism, privatization, and privatizing the profits and socializing the externalities to assist the corporations. Tax abatements, tax writer off, tax shelters, tax codes, etc. etc., written for-by-because of the corporaitons, and telecomm is one arena in a hundred thousand where lobbying (prostitution and pimping) pays off, and kills citizen rights on every single level.

    From that bastion of corporate fawning, Forbes:

    From 1998 to 2018, telecommunications companies including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Charter and others have dumped more than $1.2 billion into the pockets of Congress in attempts to win favor with lawmakers. Figures compiled by Comparitech found that America’s largest phone and internet providers show that recent years have only seen lobbying costs increase. 2018 was the highest individual year for telecom lobbying, with $80 million being spent by ISPs—and it’s only expected to continue increasing.

    Many telecom companies kick up their lobbying efforts when they are about to face additional scrutiny from lawmakers. AT&T racked up $23 million in lobbying charges in 1999—the most the company has ever spent in a single year—when it was readying itself to make an $81 billion acquisition of major competitor Ameritech. Likewise, Comcast spent more than $19 million to curry favor in 2011 when it decided to acquire NBC Universal. T-Mobile parent company has spent more than $8 million in each of the last three years as it cozies up to legislators ahead of its attempts to acquire Sprint and consolidate two of the four largest mobile carriers in the country.

  2. In our social system serving their ruling class, the primary function of the state’s regulatory agencies is to manage profit-making and power-mongering behind a buffer of public service and accountability and other delusions of democracy. A notable illustration amid the vast corruption is the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which in the usual name of competition and blah, blah, blah permitted the propaganda oligarchy the FCC had long been overseeing to be distilled into five or six corporate fronts of monopoly capital controlling over 90% of mass media programming. From there, it’s been a small step to rolling out the Orwellian totalitarianism we’ve been subjected to since covid-1984 laid siege to ‘our’ society.

    What world are reformists of this racket living in when they call for a more functional exercise of predatory practices upon the commons like this ownership over the means of communication? These professional class critics of the establishment are accomplices with the criminal gangs ruling over us, and closing in on us in the new abnormal, whereby eventually our perceptions of the world will be totally controlled with such progress of fascist function creep as machine-brain interface provides our masters.

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