Biden’s telecom pick pledges to recuse herself from key issues amid legal dispute

Ailan Evans, DCNF

Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden’s nominee to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), pledged to recuse herself from key broadcast issues amid an ongoing legal dispute over her involvement with a shuttered streaming service.

Sohn agreed to a temporary recusal on certain issues related to retransmission consent and television broadcast copyright if confirmed as FCC commissioner, according to a letter sent to FCC general counsel P. Michele Ellison. Sohn pledged to recuse herself for the first four years of her term from issues related to retransmission consent rules that she helped craft, and from general retransmission consent and broadcast copyright matters for the first three years of her term.

The recusal comes amid an ongoing dispute over Sohn’s involvement with Locast, a streaming service that retransmitted local television broadcasts over the internet. Locast was sued by broadcasters and was found to be in violation of copyright law, and the organization was ordered to pay statutory damages totaling $32 million.

However, one day after she was nominated, Sohn signed a revised confidential agreement with broadcasters to cut the damages owed to roughly $700,000, and release herself and other enjoined parties from future liability. Sohn did not address the new deal during her committee hearing and testimony, and the discrepancies between her answers and the confidential agreement prompted Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, to call for a second hearing to resolve the matter, according to a Senate aide.

“Questions about Ms. Sohn’s potential conflicts of interest have been dismissed as without merit by the White House and Ms. Sohn’s friends in the telecommunications advocacy community. Now comes this unprecedented recusal,” Wicker said in a statement shared with the Daily Caller News Foundation. “The FCC is too important to have a commissioner who cannot serve in a significant capacity.”

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to vote on Sohn’s nomination, along with that of Federal Trade Commission pick Alvaro Bedoya, on Feb. 2. Every Senate Commerce Democrat has publicly backed her nomination except Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

“Ms. Sohn’s recusal further underscores the need for a new hearing,” Wicker said. “Senators should be given the opportunity to question the contours and scope of the recusal, how it would impact the operations of the commission if Ms. Sohn is confirmed, and whether the recusal was developed in coordination with any third parties.”

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), a broadcast trade group that pushed for Sohn to recuse herself on certain broadcasting issues, lauded her decision.

“Ms. Sohn’s recusal agreement resolves the concerns NAB raised regarding her nomination,” NAB said in a statement. “NAB appreciates Ms. Sohn’s willingness to seriously consider our issues regarding retransmission consent and broadcast copyright, and to address those concerns in her recusal. We look forward to the Senate moving forward with Ms. Sohn’s confirmation and are eager to work with her and the full complement of commissioners in the very near future.”

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