FCC Nominee Gigi Sohn speaking at her second confirmation hearing.

c-span.org (Fair Use)

Gigi Sohn’s post-FCC-fiasco job will be directing funding to public broadband

Gigi Sohn is the American Association for Public Broadband's first executive director.

 

David Covucci

Tech

Posted on May 3, 2023   Updated on May 3, 2023, 4:18 pm CDT

The push for public broadband just got a big new name.

Former FCC Commissioner nominee Gigi Sohn, who withdrew from the process earlier this year, was named the first executive director of the American Association for Public Broadband (AAPB). The AAPB is an advocacy group for municipal, government-run broadband networks that can be a competitor to massive telecom monopolies that control most Americans’ connectivity.

Sohn comes at a time when the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) and government agencies are ready to hand out massive funding due to infrastructure and COVID-19 relief bills in a push to upgrade networks and decrease the digital divide.

Studies show that tens of millions of Americans do not have access to high-speed internet, which became a necessity in the wake of the COVID pandemic, when virtual learning, telecommuting, and telemedicine became commonplace.

Although the vast majority of American networks are controlled by private companies, in recent years public networks in places like Tennessee have shown that government-run internet services can a fast, cheap, and reliable alternative.

Sohn comes to the organization, which only formed last year, after a tumultuous confirmation process that saw Republican opposition keep her, a long-time broadband advocate, from joining the FCC.

Sohn faced three confirmation hearings, a delay that led to her renomination, and a massive press push from right-wing media that painted her in a negative light.

At a press conference announcing her appointment, Sohn said that the confirmation process was “like being in a washing machine full of rocks for 16 months” and that as a long-time public advocate, it “was enormously frustrating to be muzzled … to not be able to defend myself.”

Despite the partisan push against the nomination, Sohn said in her new position, she’s both willing and excited to work with both parties to improve public internet services.

“It’s not a partisan issue,” Sohn said. “I was shocked by how many municipal systems there are in [conservative] states.”

Sohn highlighted Republican leaders at the state and local level, including in Louisiana and West Virginia, who she said would love to work with, and noted that community broadband was a winning issue for any candidate to run on.

At the organization, Sohn said her first goal was to increase membership, but that her main focus was to ensure that, as broadband subsidies come down to states, public entities have the same access to money that big telecom giants would.

“There shouldn’t be any barriers for public companies,” Sohn said, compared to private monopolies. “It’s got to be a level playing field.”

The organization, she said, “needs to make public broadband a thing towns and communities want to have.”

This post has been updated.

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*First Published: May 3, 2023, 3:14 pm CDT