Democrats Have Enough Votes to Get Gigi Sohn On the FCC—Will They Succeed?
We need to reverse Trump’s Internet sellout and time is running out
You’ve probably never heard of Gigi Sohn, but America needs her and we need her now. This is a call to immediate action to restore Net Neutrality and stop a tiny slice of corporate America from spying on us and our lives.
Donald Trump’s first year in office was a big boon for the predatory companies that bring the internet into our homes and onto our cell phones, commonly referred to as Internet Service Providers or ISPs.
Because these companies stand between you and the internet, they have tremendous power over your online experience. They can choose what websites load fast for you and which take forever. They can track every single site you visit — including how long you’re on each site — and record every single keystroke you send or receive over the internet.
Prior to Trump coming into office, it was illegal for Comcast or AT&T, for example, to slow down websites who hold political views those companies dislike or give lightning-fast loading time for sites that are closer to the companies’ typically conservative politics.
On the commercial level, it was also illegal prior to Trump’s presidency for your ISP to slow down pretty much everything that comes into your home but offer super-fast throughput to any website that kicked back to them a fee for a “fast lane” privilege.
Today, this sort of manipulation of your internet experience is perfectly legal. Trump and the GOP saw to that in December 2017, with help from former Verizon attorney Ajit Pai, who Trump elevated to chairman of the FCC.
Not only can your internet service provider pick and choose which websites you’ll find pleasant or difficult to read, they can also track every site you visit, every keystroke you send or receive, and every email you compose or read.
They can store that data for as long as they want and can sell it to anybody they want. (There a few new state laws that somewhat limit this, but at the federal level and in most states it’s a total wild west for the ISPs and prosecutions are nonexistent.)
All these activities are illegal across the European Union which embraces Net Neutrality, but this is America where five Republicans on the Supreme Court gave giant telecom companies the legal ability to bribe both Trump and any members of Congress they chose.
As a result, these billion-dollar-behemoths have spent millions “lobbying” and “making campaign contributions” to get to this point.
Right now, about the only way around their spying and speed control is to purchase and install on your computer or phone a Virtual Private Network or VPN, which uses encryption and its own servers to conceal your usage and data from your ISP. But many VPNs also spy on you and — particularly the “free” ones — also sell your information to giant data brokers and advertisers as their basic business model.
Reputable ones, however, like ExpressVPN (disclosure: I have used them for almost a decade and they have recently advertised on my program), have servers which are not even capable of tracking the sites you visit or the data you send and receive over the net. They just keep you safe from your own ISP.
This shouldn’t be necessary.
Now the grim age of Trump and Pai are behind us, and President Biden has appointed Gigi Sohn to the FCC to clean up Trump’s mess. She’s an open advocate for “net neutrality,” the law before Trump came into office, that requires ISPs to treat all internet traffic the same. It’s also possible she would lead the FCC to do something about ISPs spying on us and selling our information.
But first she needs to make it through Senate confirmation.
And the more money the ISPs spread around Washington, DC, the more flipped out about Gigi Sohn the Republicans become. They’ve even begun attacking her for being openly lesbian, as if that has someting to do with how she’d perform her job.
All fourteen Republicans on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee that vets FCC nominations are opposed to her. John Thune, who apparently never saw a corporate donation he didn’t like, recently said:
“In Ms. Sohn, President Biden has nominated someone who cannot fulfill part of the responsibilities of FCC commissioner, and whose record strongly suggests that she cannot be relied upon to fulfill any of her responsibilities in an impartial manner.”
Committee members Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson, and Rick Scott all seem equally skeptical, which will probably leave Kyrsten Sinema the swing vote on the panel.
Comcast has gone so far as to hire former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to lobby on “the status of FCC nominations,” along with a former Arizona legislative colleague of Senator Sinema, and Joe Manchin’s former top aide, according to The Washington Post.
On the other hand, over 250 good government and consumer advocacy groups have written to the leaders of the Senate and this committee through which her nomination must pass, urging them “to bring to the floor the confirmation vote of Gigi Sohn for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) before Congress adjourns.”
“We call on the Senate,” they add, “to give the consideration that is due to this highly qualified individual, who has dedicated her career to ensuring consumers have access to communications services available to everybody, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, geography, or political viewpoint. Her life’s work is the embodiment of the FCC’s mission, and we simply cannot have a less-than fully functioning FCC to persist any longer.”
For a great in-depth story about Sohn, check out this piece published yesterday at The Daily Dot. But don’t expect to see much or even any coverage of this nomination by mainstream media, who in many cases have interlocking business deals with our nation’s ISPs.
If we want to recover our privacy and give small, progressive websites an even playing field against giant media and online players like the Murdoch empire (which has trashed Ms. Sohn in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and on Fox “News”) we need to push the senate now.
Call your senator today at 202-225-3121 and tell them to support the nomination of Gigi Sohn to the FCC.
Time is running out.
PS. Unrelated, but here’s a Daily Take from March about the war in Ukraine that I believe is particularly important and you may find both interesting and useful:
Let me know in the comments below if you’d like me to start regularly attaching posts that I think are important but you may have missed to the end of my regular daily takes…