Don’t Let Extremists Rule the FCC Roost

Progressive Policy Institute
4 min readDec 8, 2022

By Lindsay Mark Lewis

Voters across America this month delivered a mixed verdict in partisan terms, but one message came through loud and clear: Political extremism is a loser. In red and blue states alike, voters rejected right-wing attempts to strip women of their reproductive rights, as well as a motley collection of election deniers and conspiracy theorists endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

In contrast, Democrats managed to hold the Senate and drastically limit Republican gains in the House by fielding mainstream candidates in key battleground states who were firmly anchored in America’s pragmatic center.

Back in Washington, however, the wisdom of this approach seems to elude left-leaning progressives and interest groups who are pushing Democrats to embrace extreme anti-business views, including left-wing activists pressuring the Senate to proceed with the controversial nomination of Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission. The nomination has been stalled for a year amid concerns about Sohn’s calls for heavy-handed regulation of the telecommunications sector and strident attacks on her many critics.

While President Biden is far from the “radical socialist” of Republican imagination, some academics pushing left-wing ideas with little public support have burrowed into key policy-making posts in his administration. That’s already happened on the Federal Trade Commission, and it’s what could happen to the FCC if a Democratic Senate confirms Sohn.

The FCC is currently divided 2–2 on partisan lines, with two Democratic and two Republican commissioners functioning surprisingly well during the first two years of the Biden presidency. The FCC should have a fifth commissioner to break ties, but adding the combative and hyper-partisan Sohn would be a recipe for ideological polarization and conflict.

With so many out of mainstream views it is hard to list all the radical ideas from Sohn. The push for rate controls, her intolerance for voices who dissent with her, and her acerbic attacks via Twitter on Members of Congress do stand out.

The Washington Post editorial board called the policy stances Sohn advocates “toxic — and outdated,” and leading Obama and Clinton administration telecom experts argue that the prospect of such price regulations could destroy the broadband miracle.

Sohn has criticized the intelligence of civil rights leaders, for instance, for having the temerity to speak out on telecom issues, arguing that they don’t possess any “core expertise” to weigh in, and threatened to “expose” and “flush” those with heterodox views. She has long been associated with groups that sought local censure of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) for her more centrist, bipartisan approach.

Does the Federal Communications Commission need a more aggressive and partisan majority to do its job? Is that what voters asked for?

I ask this as a progressive who firmly wants a Democratic majority on the FCC. With a 3–2 split, the Commission could ensure passage of important policies, without always relying on the support of Republican commissioners. Yet even with its current makeup, the agency has advanced a huge number of pragmatic policies that progressives support.

Consider what the FCC has done to support programs that expand internet connectivity for those who need it most.

The Commission implemented the Emergency Connectivity Fund, providing $7 billion to help schools and libraries implement remote learning during the pandemic. It also brought the $14 billion Affordable Connectivity Program online, giving low-income families discounted and free broadband internet service. These policies are making a real difference in millions of lives, and they happened with unanimous votes by the four commissioners.

It’s a similar story in rural America. Progressives have long lamented lagging broadband buildout in remote regions of the country due to market failures. The current FCC has made it far easier to connect broadband infrastructure to utility poles, enabling faster and more affordable rural rollouts. The commission has also created better incentive programs for small broadband providers looking to serve hard-to-reach communities, especially with 5G services. These are real wins for rural Americans.

And of course, the so-called “deadlocked FCC” is making a nationwide 5G rollout a reality. Through its recent spectrum auctions and other reforms, the commission is empowering America’s innovators to implement the next generation of wireless technology. The 5G revolution will benefit everyone, creating new educational, economic, and health care opportunities that will benefit the least fortunate the most.

The list of achievements goes on — enhancing the telehealth capabilities of healthcare providers; cracking down on digital discrimination; and improving network resiliency, which will help our internet better withstand the ever increasing natural disasters due to climate change.

The FCC should build on these achievements, especially considering bipartisan wins are much tougher to repeal by a future partisan majority. Yet many of my fellow progressives are calling for the Senate to immediately confirm Gigi Sohn, who President Biden nominated to the FCC over a year ago. They’re getting louder post-election, arguing that since Democrats didn’t get drubbed at the polls, our leaders should take a more partisan approach.

Their argument doesn’t hold up. If Ms. Sohn is confirmed, the FCC will focus on a select few divisive issues to the exclusion of a much larger number of equally important policies that can get bipartisan support. Case in point:

The Federal Communications Commission is already doing praiseworthy work. With a fifth member, appointed by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate, it can do even more good for even more people on a bipartisan basis. That’s why the White House should let Gigi Sohn’s nomination expire, and instead nominate someone with a proven track record of pragmatically working across the aisle to achieve real and lasting results. Voters want it, the country needs it, and the FCC can and should continue to deliver it.

Lindsay Mark Lewis is Executive Director of the Progressive Policy Institute.



Progressive Policy Institute

Radically Pragmatic. We seek to advance progressive, market-friendly ideas that promote American innovation, economic growth, and wider opportunity.