Skip to main content

tv   Confirmation Hearing For FCC Nominee  CSPAN  February 9, 2022 10:02am-12:24pm EST

10:02 am
good morning, the committee
10:03 am
will come to order. we're here today to consider the nomination of gigi sohn to be commissioner of the federal communications commission. thank you for appearing again before the committee. and for your continued commitment to serve. many members will remember that ms. sohn appeared before the committee, and she has graciously come back to answer kbes questions and communicate with members. it shows the open process she would have as commissioner of the fcc. it's a step that most people probably wouldn't do, but i think it speaks highly of her and the way that she believes in conducting herself. so thank you very much for that. i want to also thank members for trying to address the these issues. the federal communications commission is a very important
10:04 am
organization. we all know that there are important issues there that affect the daily lives of many people. for example, the commission is trying to be more aggressive about unwanted robocalls and text messaging and the laws that companies should be complying with to report data breaches earlier so consumers know in realtime about the threat of their personal information. the pandemic has demonstrated how essential broadband is in the 21st century economy and the importance of the covid-19 telehealth program emergency broadband connectivity and the fund to keep people connected to their doctors. the fcc is critical to making sure that cleansing in the covid lu gets to schools and libraries and children. and we have been focused on getting our mapping updated. so we really have no time to waste. no time to waste in an information age of getting an fcc with the high quality
10:05 am
internet services, to getting access to millions of americans to update maps and legislation that was passed in the bipartisan infrom structure bill. 30 years of experience working on tel communications policy, including senior adviser to the fcc. she's a prominent voice in the tel communications arena leading the charge on consumer protection and competition. and has been in the middle of every major debate that has transpired in the shaping of the regulatory framework on these important policy issues. so her nomination, i also believe, is historic being the
10:06 am
first openly gay commissioner on the fcc, another milestone and diversity that is so important, i think, in inclusion in talking about issues. ms. sohn's nomination has been considered on both sides of the aisle. she's supported by 200 organizations and people across the spectrum. her appeal is also bipartisan including members of conservative immediate organizations and legislaors from various states across the united states. i know i have heard from people in my state legislature, so i'm not surprised if other members have also heard from them a as well. ms. sohn would be the first to tell you she does have opinions and strong believes and have been fighting for them over the decades. many people who seek these jobs also have strong opinions. i have been one who has had had to vote for many people where i might have disagreed with their opinion or some statement they made while serving in a different capacity.
10:07 am
she will deliver her expertise to important issues and guidance that fcc needs to tackle in these issue ps. i'm sure the process we have been very accommodating on the working with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle. our colleagues asked for more time before ms. sohn's original hearing. we granted that. members asked for this hearing. i would just say to individuals, i know that many of you either did not meet with ms. sohn or maybe in the qfrs had questions. so that's why we're here today to answer those kwesz. so i appreciate, again, her willingness. and on an a additional note, our outpouring of love at the last hearing to senator lou. i got a text from him yesterday. he very much looks forward to rejoining us and sends his love back to the committee. with that, i will turn it over to the ranking member.
10:08 am
>> thank you, senator. it is nice to have a good report from our friend and we certainly wish him well. and thank you for holding this extremely important hearing to consider the nomination of gigi sohn. i want to express my appreciation for working with me and for agreeing to my request for this additional hearing. let me begin by saying, although i disagree with ms. sohn on a number of policy matters such as regulation i to not intend to discuss those today. i will also note that this hearing is not about obstructing a nominee. many members on this side of the aisle have voted to report many nominees out of this committee favorably. nominated by president biden, including a nominee for the fcc.
10:09 am
it gives me no pleasure to say that my reason for being here today is to discuss outstanding questions about ms. sohn's fitness and ability to serve as a commissioner. particularly, in light of twomts that occurred after our hearing of december 1st of 2021. some of the matters that required further examination including her service on the board of sports fans coalition new york as well as the settlement agreement this entity and this directors reached with several broadcasters regarding its illegal low cast service. a number of questions surround ms. sohn's recently released voluntary recusal letter, which would bar her from participating in the fcc's retransmission consent and television copyright matters for at least three and possibly four years.
10:10 am
i expect my colleagues will have additional matters they would like to discuss with ms. sohn in today's hearing. the set thement agreement between sports fans coalition new york and broadcasters is troubling for many reasons. broadcasters accused sports fans coalition new york of infringing on their copyrights in the operation of the low cast service. yet the party settled this dispute with the coalition agreeing to pay just 700,000 out of the $32 million in statutory damages they reportedly owed. i recognize that settlement agreements are common in litigation, but a settlement for a fraction of the damages stands out. ms. sohn has not been
10:11 am
forthcoming on this settlement. i have my hand when i asked about the source, she did not acknowledge that it had been reduced to $700,000. this raises questions as to what else she is not revealing about this litigation. what also makes this settlement troubling is ms. sohn and the other parties signed the agreement one day after president biden announced his intent to nominate her to the fcc. this timing raises questions. did the parties know that in settling a claim for 2% of the amount of statutory djs they were settling with a future fcc commissioner? did the white house know of the forthcoming settlement when deciding the timing of ms. sohn
10:12 am
oorks nomination announcement. did these factors influence the decision to settle and the amount of the settlement. what are the ethical issues of parties accepting a 98% reduction in financial damages before being potentially subject to regulation by ms. sohn. this committee needs clarity. we need to know whether it is fully satisfied and whether the directors of sports fans coalition new york including ms. sohn remain liable for any part of it. we need to know her role in negotiating the settlement and whether her nomination affected it in any way. further our december 2021 nominations hearing showed
10:13 am
members on both sides of the aisle have had concerns about her ability to remain impartial on matters related to broadcasters and their content. two weeks ago they sent a letter to the fcc voluntarily recusing herself from any retransmission consent is or television broadcast copyright. however, she based this on a single filing of the commission. while she was president of the group public knowledge. if she feels she cannot be viewed as impartial on matters related to this particular file ing and docket, should the same rational extend to many other subject matters that public knowledge submitted filings on during her tenure. a number of industry associations have expressed concern she suffers similar conflicts or at least the appearance of conflicts to the ones she identified in her recusal letter. based on her own statement, it
10:14 am
seems there maybe additional matters from which she would need to recuse herself. in addition to the questions pertaining to this rekoouz sal, i'm also concerned about the circumstances that lead to the drafting and release of the recusal letter. the timing and scope raises several questions that i hope we get answers to today. particularly, who was involved with the formulation of the recusal agreement. was the support of any individual or entity predicated on the signing of such an agreement. was this a quid pro quo, what prompted her to recuse herself voluntaily and why now? given the importance of the fcc commissioner's position to participate fully in our agency's work, i'm doubtful her
10:15 am
recusal resolves the concerns many members have. a fair ais setsment would lead one to conclude the public deserves a regulatory they can can trust to be impartial in all matters as well as one ta can do the job for which she was nominated. ms. sohn is a brilliant attorney. i have noted before that all would agree she's knowledgeable and a determined advocate. but with these rising complications desetting her potential service as an fcc commissioner, i question whether she's the best choice to fill this vacancy. there are indeed many other qualified candidates who would not have to recuse themselves and answer questions about legal settlements. i want to thank ms. sohn for appearing before the committee, and i thank the chair. thank you, madame chair. >> welcome. thank you for coming back. and very much appreciate your
10:16 am
openness and your willingness to discuss these issues. it shows your level of transparency in making sure that issues can be den in a bipartisan basis. taung. >> good morning, chairwoman, ranking member wicker and members of the committee. before i start, i want to second wishes to a full and fast recovery for senator luhan it's been on or getting to know him during this process, and i look forward to seeing him on this diyas again. i would like to reintroduce myself again. i have been a public interest lawyer for 30 years working towards one goal. ensuring that all americans have access to affordable, open and robust communications networks. during that time, i lined up on the same side and other times not positioned to every regulated industry. i'm an advocate for the public,
10:17 am
that's what i do. if i'm confirmed, i would be the first public interest advocate to sit on the fcc. yet unlike the numerous nominees for fcc that have worked for commissioners, represented them as clients or served on their board, i have been subject to unrelenting, unfair and outright false criticism and scrutiny. despite the fact that i have had over 250 organizations and policy experts and 350,000 citizens voice their support including in letters to the committee and an op-ed, many republicans and people you'd never think in a million years would support me, in fact the parents tvlgs council just supported me this morning. for a fifth commissioner seat, not the chair who controls the agenda, this is probably a record. at the psalm time, i realize this isn't all about me it's about someone stopping the fcc from ensuring everyone in america has robust broadband, regardless of who they are, what their income is or where they
10:18 am
live as mandated by the bipartisan infrastructure law. it's about stopping the fcc from ensuring that the media is diverse and serves the needs of local communities. it's about stepping the fcc to ensuring networks are resilient when the next disaster hits so the public stays connected and safe. and it's about stopping the work congress have charged to support. most importantly, it hurts the american people who need the fcc to make hard decisions. now i'll address some of the questions raised around the confidential settlement agreement and my voluntary and temporary recusal from matters. first of all, as press reports have made clear, i have no financial liability stemming from the lawsuit, indeed i never did from the day i joined sports fans coalition board.
10:19 am
thissen wasn't a settlement agreement that i negotiated. with the full and eager consent of the network plaintiffs, set the amount to be paid $700,000 plus agreeing to turn over equipment to them. why didn't i mention this number in my response for the record? because the confidential settlement agreement barred me, as well as the network plaintiffs, from mentioning the terms of the agreements in writing. this was a fact that whoever leaked the agreement to the press conveniently omitted. also omitted was the fact that the enforcible term sheet setting forth the particulars of the settlement was signed october 12th, two weeks before i was nominated for this position. that term sheet is expressly referred to in the settlement agreement. on october 12th when the settlemented between the networks was signed by the representatives, i had no idea whether or not i was going to be nominated. or if i was going to be nominated at all presidential the parties didn't know either.
10:20 am
i took very seriously my tuitt to keep the terms of the settlement agreement confidential. but others did not. and exploited my inability to defend myself. now freed from the public disclosure of this information, despite a court order confirming all the terms of the settlement agreement including not to discuss them with the press, i'm here to answer the baseless rumors. second, i'll dras my recusal, which i undertook because of concerns raised by members of this committee about my involvement with low cast. recusal is tailored and tied to my personal participation in a 12-year-old petition for rule making the organization i represented filed making changes to the consent regime. a dlt that remains open. this precedent in 1998 then chairman recused himself from a docket when he discovered he
10:21 am
signed a pleading in that docket as an intern. this is not unprecedented. i know that industry is saying that, but that's not true. as experts have noted, my recusal is voluntary, temporary, extremely narrow and concerns business unlikely to come before the full fcc. in no way does this open the door to every other industry for every position i have ever advocated. such a result would be proverse. and would prohibit anyone, not just public interest advocates and academics, who have taken any positions on media policy from serving on the fcc. a federal district court judge rejected a similar request in a case involving an effort to recuse a seen your government official. he said, it's natural that the president would select a candidate based on past experiences including on topics likely to come before the commission and how that administrator will implement the priorities.
10:22 am
fpz courts must tread carefully less we eviscerate the policymaking were we to disqualify every administrator who has opinions on the correct course of his future action. i have and will continue to answer each and every one of your questions with complete honesty and to the best of my knowledge. thank you. >> thank you for being here. i do think that the timing of the recusal after the hearing made it something we should talk about and certainly support you being here and your willingness to do that. put you didn't negotiate the settlement. >> i did not. it was a nonprofit corporation and did not negotiate the settlement. there was something called a case narrowing agreement, which
10:23 am
i'm happy to talk about. i was nevefinally on the hook. >> this was in a negotiated settlement. so we want a timing by a certain date. >> the court entered an injunction on september 15th. we had 30 days to decide whether to appeal or to settle. and obviously, i was involved as a board member in the decision to settle as opposed to appeal. >> by that you mean they consult ed the board and the board had to sign off. >> they said, look, we're up against the four biggest networks. we're a tiny little nonprofit. we don't have that much money. let's just throw in the towel. we lost. let's throw in the towel. they had 30 days from september 15th to either decide to appeal or settle.
10:24 am
>> you had control over that. your nomination of -- let's just be clear. someone suggested that you might be and they asked if you wanted to be vetted, and you agreed because why not. why not be on the fcc? but that happened months before. so you had no idea what was happening on either end. you department have control over the settlement or your nomination. the court was driving the settlement process. let's get to the number amount. because as you said, you didn't mislead the committee on anything. you basically answered the question about the settlement and you were constricted by what you could say. you were not supposed to talk about the details of the settlement. since then, the information has been leaked. but the point is that the court basically said we are probably not going to find for low cast and you guys should reach a settlement. this put the stipulation in there basically as a way to say
10:25 am
don't think about these ideas pause they cost us a lot. that's their way of expressing their future incentive. but when it came down to settling, they agreed to settle on what they thought was the real impact. so that's the difference between the number. is that correct? >> that's correct. pz so the judge never ordered $32 million in damages. let me clarify one other thing. low cast was found not to have qualified for an exemption of copyright law. no liability was found by the judge. it was just found to not have qualified for a statutorily imposed exemption by congress for a nonprofit. that's important. $32 million is what the networks could have sought in statutory damage. the judge did not ever say that low cast was liable for $32 million. but in the stipulation, again,
10:26 am
in order to scare away the next low cast, the parties agreed to put in a clause that says statutory damages were $32 million. what's really interesting about that is that the settlement agreement was already agreed to and signed by the time that stipulation was submitted to the court. so there was never a question of whether $32 million was the actual amount. the actual amount was $700,000. >> and you had nothing to do with that? >> nothing to do with that. i was on the board of this company and this company and this agreement in this settlement is related to an open docket that you had filed a
10:27 am
letter on long ago in a previous capacity. you wanted to make iter clear to people that open docket issue is something you're not going to deal with. >> that's correct. obviously, it concerned me that there was so much concern. so i wanted to address that concern by looking at the nex us is of what i may have worked on before and this litigation. and i found this petition for rule making that i personally signed 12 years ago and for which there was precedent. i think that's really important. the chairman did the exact same thing. he was already sitting on the commission, but i don't think that's a distinction without a difference. the voluntary narrow and temporary recusal.
10:28 am
it will have, in my opinion, very little impact on my ability to be a commissioner of the fcc. >> thank you. senator wicker? >> thank you, madame chair. and thank you, ms. sohn for being here. question three for the record, as i submitted, where did the money come from for the payment of the $32 million settlement in connection with the case. response the funds come from the amounts collected to fund the operations after it pays its vendors. do you at least acknowledge that your answer was invasive? >> no, sir. senator, respectfully, i disagree. i was bound not to discuss the details of the settlement agreement. i took that confidentiality agreement very seriously. so i don't agree. i'm sorry. i think i answered it truthly
10:29 am
and to the best of my ability and to the best of what i was allowed to tell you because i was subject to this confidentiality agreement. >> you answered it truthfully, but left the impression that $32 million was paid rather than only 2% of that amount. >> respectfully, senator, i could not talk about the $700,000. i was barred from doing that in writing. i know you have a copy of the settlement agreement. you can see i'm barred from putting the terms in writing. so i answered it as directly and honestly as i could without violating my duty to keep the settlement agreement confidential. it's unfortunate that it was leaked to the press and leaked very selectively. i actually had screen shots of some of the selective pages of the settlement agreement leaked to the press. and that has allowed for a lot of misinformation to bubble up. >> let me ask you then. you and i disagree on that
10:30 am
matter. let's move on to the recusal letter. whose idea was that? >> well, it was my idea. but i did consult with a bunch of outside advisers who are smarter than i am. i wanted to make sure that the scope of the recusal was not it too broad. >> did any members of congress subject to you it might be -- >> sir, i did speak with committee staff about it. i asked them whether they thought it was a smart idea. i asked them whether it might allay some of the concern. so i did speak to committee staff about it, yes. i think the general thought was, it wouldn't be a bad idea. >> was this suggested to you by the administration? >> no, quite the opposite, sir they were opposed to me recusing a at all. >> your rational for recusal on
10:31 am
the retransmission issue was based on a past filing from your organization known as public knowledge, is that correct? it was a proceeding before the fcc. the question that is out there is why stop there if you're going to use this rational? you have filed comments on other issues before the fcc inclouding universal service fund regulation. based on this rational, why did you limit it to simply that one filing and will your -- is it true that your recusal is voluntary that there's no
10:32 am
enforcement mechanism and that you could change your mind at any point and withdraw the recusal. >> i'll answer the second part first. you're absolutely right. it's voluntary. and i would not do that without seeking counsel from officials of the fcc, as i will do for many issues. but yes, i could withdraw it. that's exactly what the chairman did. he consulting with counsel. he had voluntarily recused. he consulted with counsel and they said, you know what, it was 20 years ago when you were an intern. you don't have to recuse anymore. so i could. i'm not likely to. similarly, i don't see any of these issues coming before the full commission, which we can talk about. but yes, i could. could you repeat the first part? >> this is one of just many filings that you filed on behalf
10:33 am
of public knowledge. and i mentioned rate regulation universal service fund as two of those. >> let me talk about that. this recusal is really what i would call a purple cow. it's at the nex us is of the low cast litigation and a filing i made 12 years ago. there's no other such that you can find. i was trying to address the concerns of this committee around the low cast litigation and whether i would be biassed. i connected that to a petition for rule making that i personally signed 12 years ago that addresses some of the same issues raised in litigation. so no, i think to recuse from everything that public knowledge ever filed is without limits and basically prohibits any public advocate, not necessarily in the nonprofit sector. it could be somebody who worked at a law firm. it would prohibit them from being a commissioner as well.
10:34 am
what you'd have is an fcc pull full of people with no knowledge. i don't think anybody reallys that. >> senator blumenthal? >> thanks, madame chair. thank you for being here today and answering these questions so forthrightly and candidly. i want to join chairman cantwell in thanking you for your transparency, but also your tenacity. transparency and tenacity are two important qualities in a public interest lawyer, which you have been throughout your career. and i just want to say to you, you should be proud of that career you should be proud of being here today and answering these questions and facing down these innuendos and allegations
10:35 am
and dispelling any doubt about your qualifications to be a member of the fcc and you are absolutely right. the reason you're here is bigger than you. it's part of an effort to dead lock, disarm and disable the fcc. and for folks who may not know what fcc is, the federal communications commission, and may have no idea why it matters that we have full membership on the fcc, we need to recognize that it is stymied and stalled in enforcing the law. we passed a myriad of laws. they are dead letter if they are not enforced. and what we see here today really is a double standard. this committee has no qualms about approving in 2017 an
10:36 am
associate general council at verizon. it was elated to approve a former president of the trade association. it raised no questions about conflict of interest with respect to them. and yes, you are always free, there's no enforcement mechanism on the letter of recrecusal, bu you have no intention as you sit here to withdraw that letter. correct? >> correct. >> let me come to the heart of that. right now, if you're a consumer, you're getting robo texts and robocalls with fraudulent disinformation, often obscene and disturbing messages.
10:37 am
there's a proposal now pending before the fcc to stop them. that proposal goes nowhere until you're confirmed. >> that's correct. >> is and will you commit to approve a consumer protection law against those robocalls if you're confirmed? >> absolutely. >> right now before the commission, there's a proposal that would give more access to people who live in apartment buildings. one-third of america lives in apartment buildings. often already revenue sharing agreements with the broadband providers to lower prices broadband with more choices. that proposal to prevent that
10:38 am
kind of stymieing fcc goes nowhere. >> that's one that i don't think the chair, as good as she is at getting 4-0 decisions, would be able to get 4-0 decision on that. that one is going to be deadlocked. >> so let me ask you. will you commit to approve brt access for broadband that people who live in apartment buildings. >> i have to review the records. >> i want to thank you for, again, your willingness to serve the federal communications commission has jurisdiction over issues of consumer protection. they are vital. we are concerned about inflation and rising costs. the fcc can do something about it. and i hope that my colleagues
10:39 am
will be satisfied. there's ample reason, abundant reason to be satisfied with the answers you have given so far to the chairman's excellent questions. i hope wooul we'll move forward to approve your nomination. thank you for answering my question. >> thank you. >> senator thune, are you ready? or would you like to defer? >> thank you, chairman. the last time you were here, i asked you specifically how your reactions a as a public gres advocate shouldn't bear on your ability to appear as a neutral regulator. your response was the quote was context is very important. the tweets were made in my role as a public interest advocate
10:40 am
part of my job. it's not part of -- you're not recusing yourself because of the low cast, but because of your public advocacy. i'm a little confused about how you draw the line there. why did you decide the recusal would be for this one topic if it was part of your work as a public interest advocate opposed to part of your service on the low cast board? >> that's a good question. to be honest with you, if i had to do it begun, i probably would have mentioned low cast in that letter. clearly that's what i was addressing is thes low cast litigation and the 12-year-old petition for rule making. the reason i referred was because it was precedent. it was the chairman's press
10:41 am
debit, so aiowa lewded to that. thinking about it now, i wish i had said something about it. but clearly, there's no reason given what transpired at the hearing and what was raised for me to just sort of out of the blue voluntary recuse because of a 12-year-old petition. it was clearly related to the low cast service. just as a reminder, i did not have to recuse because of my service on the board. i just wanted to -- i probably should have made it broader. i didn't but clearly that's what i was addressing. i think everybody knew that. i wish i had been more specific. >> based on your testimony, i think they have both received letters from u.s. telecom, which would be at&t and verizon and
10:42 am
others, they have written letters expressing that based on the rational for your rekus sal offer, that you should be recused. i did get my friend's vote to dead lock this arm and disable the fcc? is that why there's opposition to your participating in these issues? >> i think there's certain very large companies that would like to see them dead locked. it's no secret. they have been opposing my nomination from the beginning and they saw an opportunity because i did not mention low cast in that letter, even though it's clerly obvious to anybody who has been following my nomination, that that's what
10:43 am
they were tied to. i understand that. and again, their rational f you take it to its logical extreme, there's no limiting principle and nobody with any knowledge who has ever spoken about these issues would ever be qualified to be a commissioner. that's proverse. i think it's proverse. i'm not sure that anybody on this committee regardless of your party would like that. >> it's clear you're talented and knowledgeable in law. what's not so clear is why you couldn't be more forth coming in ta first hearing. and your comments about the agreement none of this would be disclosed. it seem what is you did say was misleading at best. maybe not intentionally so, but
10:44 am
there wasn't much information in the context you gave. we had every reason to believe that settlement was $32 million opposed to whatever the settlement was. i read somewhere that the actual exchange of money was much less than the settlement amount. do you regret your answers the first time you were here to that question? >> senator, if i had talked about the $700,000 in that qfr, i would have been violenting the settlement agreement. that i would have regretted. i answered the questions in the qfrs to the best of my ability and within the confines of the settlement agreement. let me mention one other thing, if i may. i offered to you and senator wicker to get copies of the settlement agreement from the
10:45 am
parties. i was not a part to the lawsuit. i could not give you that settlement agreement. senator wicker waited almost a month to get the copy of that settlement agreement. and we could have had this conversation, and i did meet with you and i appreciated that, but a lot of folks did not meet with me. we could have talked about it and gone through it. i would have been able to talk about it with you one-on-one. i just couldn't put it down in writing. >> we have to go on. >> sorry about that. >> thank you, chairman. >> senator? >> thank you, madame chair. i have been on the telecommunications committee house and senate for 46 years. no one has ever done this before. but i have met kmugs commissioners from so many backgrounds that raising an issue of ms. sohn's background,
10:46 am
working for her whole career to prkt consumers from, my perspective, raises an issue. and that's the issue of whether or not she's in any way compromised in her ability to serve on the commission. i think it's just the opposite, to be honest with you. the experience and knowledge she developed while working to develop telecommunications policies that improve people's lives makes her qualified. senator blumenthal has gone through so many of those issues. net neutrality, children's protections, robocalls, you go down the line. so from my perspective, if the federal communications commission chairman who had previously worked at verizon, that's one example, but i could go through a couple dozen who came from industries that were going to be regulated. if he was qualified to be on the fcc, this ms. sohn is certainly
10:47 am
qualified to be on the fcc. having spent more than 30 years working from the public interest pseudoof policy. and i would note the chairman did not recuse himself from any telecommunications issues. even though he worked for verizon before he arrived at the commission. so i just don't want there to be a double standard here today. if we're going to have a standard, we have to have a standard. and i think that ms. sohn has done great work with her career. she has over 200 organizations and individuals who have called for her to be confirmed. i have never seen anything like that in 45 years. she has been an incredible breakthrough candidate buzz of her lgbtq background. it's a critical time in communications history.
10:48 am
especially when we look at issues like title ii and the question of whether or not it's a vital essential utility or not. so many other issues that have to be dealt with. so i have supreme confidence in ms. sohn. she's given convincing explanations for her earlier testimony and for her reasons for not disclosing everything because of the confidentiality agreement that was part of their agreement. so i would like to give you additional time. just to explain more fully the reasons why you believe that you should be confirmed this time. >> thank you, senator. i appreciate actually the expressions from both sides of the aisle that you recognize i
10:49 am
am qualified. i don't know if i'm brilliant, although it was said on fox news. who would have thought? i appreciate that. but what i want to make 100% clear here is that i have answered your questions 100% honesty, to the best of my ability that i could do given the constraints i had under the settlement agreement. it's right there. i have it with me. i can pick it out, but it's pretty easy to see i was barred from writing about the particulars of the settlement agreement. and i also want to make another point that settlement agreements are agreements from parties of both sides. and let's talk about who was on the sides of the settlement agreement. you had the four major networks overflowing with very fancy lawyers, lots of money, and on
10:50 am
the other side you had this tiny nonprofit that only had $700,000 in the bank. that was trying to get poor people and people in rural areas access to tv broadcasting free broadcasting, and i joined that board, yeah, after the litigation started because i thought that was a really cool mission. the organization tried the operate under an exemption of copy right, not a loophole, but a copy right that congress put into place, and the judge said you don't qualify, go, the two parties, and figure it out. so locast decided to settle as
10:51 am
opposed to appeal, and i will say again, and you can ask the networks, they were very, very, very happy to do so and they wanted locast shutdown. they filed a satisfaction of judgment, which i was told three weeks ago that they were going to do, but still have not done it but i find interesting. >> ms. sohn, you signed the settlement agreement. did the organization have the authority to settle the case without your signature, knowledge and consent? >> no. well, they did agree to the term sheet, i did not sign that, okay? i was obviously on the board -- if i said, well, i think we should have appeal and the other two board members said we have to settle, but obviously i was consulted whether they should have settled or appeals, so technically yes, they could have moved forward without my vote.
10:52 am
>> were you ever involved in the discussions about the litigants amount prior to your nomination? >> no, that was decided by the parties. the day i stepped on the sports fan coalition board, i was never a party so i had nothing to do of negotiating anything. this was not my agreement to negotiate. >> were there any commitments made to support you publicly if you recused yourself? >> i have not gotten that support, so no, i have not gotten that, and they are neutral, so i have not gotten anything because of my volunteer recusal. i did it because i thought it was the right thing to do. >> i want to shift to a policy
10:53 am
question. i think you and i probably have big differences of opinion about how the fcc ought to regulate the internet and i've argued in the past that what you and others in your position are saying is we want to regulate under a statute that was 100 years old, and we wanted to update that and do away with a lot of the things people were concerned about, and yet we didn't have any particular willingness to negotiate on that, but i want to ask you, because we have a back and forth now potentially, and we have new rules that creates uncertainty and lack of ability, and do you
10:54 am
have the net neutrality -- >> i would love to see congress settle the matter of fcc authority and net neutrally, and i know you had a death in your family and was not able to come to the december 1 hearing, and i am sorry for that, and it's not just about the bright line rules but having the fcc have an oversight, and it's very important, nobody says broadband is not an essential service anymore, and i don't think the fcc should wait until congress acts in order to restore that authority. >> so you have come out in favor, of course, of the obama-era net neutrality rules, and also zero ratings and data
10:55 am
caps, is that your position today, yes or no? >> i mentioned these things in an article based on a paper i wrote, and it's always evolving and i can't stand before you today and say i believe in x, y and z, and i expect based on her support for a new proceeding, the chair will start a new proceeding and i will confer with you and other colleagues, and we will reach a decision, and what i wrote in 2020, it was an academic paper and there have been a lot of changes. there's been changes in business models and the way consumers use internet access, so i can't prejudge how i would rule specifically. >> very quickly, the issue of
10:56 am
impartiality, and you will be a referee, and some of the things you said on your twitter account, the attacks you have launched, for example, on fox news, and trust me, the latter have played their role in destroying autocrats, and you said fox news is state sponsored propaganda, you attacked st. claire broadcasting, and you attacked the big four, and how are you going to be impartial? these are not positions, they are attacks, and you are going to be a referee. >> senator, just to be clear, i was not attacking the big four, i was just saying they are big companies and they have more means than a tiny little non-profit -- >> fox news is an attack. >> let me talk about that, and
10:57 am
senator blunt, i am smiling at you because we had this conversation on december 1st, and we are talking about big tech, and it was said as a private citizen and has no bearing on any proceeding that fox would be involved in. fox news is not a regular tee, and the comments were in a personal capacity, and i wish my tone was not as sharp and it would have no bearing on any proceeding at the fcc. >> thank you, ma'amam chair. >> senator peters, if he's online, remotely joining us, if not, senator peters, senator
10:58 am
baldwin. >> good morning. >> good morning. >> i want to thank you before committing in front of the hearing again and for your willingness to serve our country as a commissioner on the fcc. i want to echo what a number of our colleagues have said, you are extremely qualified for this position and with 30 years of experience directly related to the commission's work, and you have a reputation for consensus building, across itologies and industries. when you are confirmed you will be bringing a very important voice, that of a seasoned consumer advocate to the agency's work at a critical time when it faces significant tasks on universal, affordable
10:59 am
broadband deployment, and the commission will greatly benefit from your experience and perspective as it takes on this challenging issues, and the commission needs its full compliment of commissioners. every day that your nomination is further delayed is a day when the fcc cannot fully discharge the important responsibilities that we have given it. this exceedingly qualified nominee has answered our many questions, and committed to a voluntary recusal of unprecedented scope. it's time this committee move forward and confirm her. finally, i want to take a moment to recognize the historic nature of your nomination. when you are confirmed you will
11:00 am
be the first openly lgbtq person to serve as the commission and will join our first female permanent fcc chair. i have been first a few times in my own career, and i know it's not always easy, but having followed in the footsteps of others to get where i am today i know how important it is to open those doors for yourself and for future generations of public servants. so i thank you. one quick policy matter -- not quick, i mean, these are big matters. i believe there's tremendous value in consumers having access to relevant local news and other information. in a world when we can increasingly seek outsources that simply tell us what we want
11:01 am
to hear, local media can have information that keeps people connected to their communities and neighbors, and that's why from my home state of wisconsin, i have long advocated for those that live in counties in the out-of-state media markets to have the option of receiving instate broadcasts on their satellite or cable services, so as a consumer advocate do you believe local media is important for improving our national discourse? do you believe the commission can strengthen local media and ensure consumers have access to relevant content? >> yes, local broadcast something the life blood of every community in providing local news and information, weather and news to every
11:02 am
american, incredibly important. we must ensure the -- the fcc must ensure that it thrives and continues to grow, and there are initiatives that will not move until there's a full fcc, so if we want to strengthen local broadcasting and media diversity, we need to have a full fcc. i hope that is part of the reason most of this party will vote me in, and there was a lot of talk about how important local broadcasting in, and it will not thrive unless we bring policies forward that allow it to. >> thank you, senator baldwin. next, senator fisher? >> thank you, madam chair. regarding your letter, as you know one of the matters you have
11:03 am
recused yourself is retransmission consent. chairwoman roesen knows she's supportive, and in her written responses she observed given the changes in the market in the last several years, the fcc should first refresh the record to inform records to complete the rule-making congress requested in 2014. earlier you said that your three to four-year recusal on many of these issues, as i understand it, it wouldn't matter because these issues wouldn't come up to soon, but if the fcc does revisit this matter as the chairwoman would like, does your recuse ul on this major issue
11:04 am
mean you won't be able to weigh in at all? >> let me qualify what i have agreed to recuse to. from four years starting to the year of my term, which began last july, so the clock already started to run, i am recused from participating in 1271, which is a 12-year old docket that has not been refreshed since 2014 -- or any proceeding that raises the exact same issues. if the proceeding that the chairwoman as agreed to, to do, fits that category, and it would not be 1071, it would be something new, and for 3 1/2 years i would not be able to participate. i am not sure my participation would be necessary, because with those doing the particular rule
11:05 am
making, she would probably get a 3-0. and from starting last july, so the clock is already running and we are half a year into it, and if i am confirmed i probably would not be confirmed until april, may, maybe a year later, so almost a whole year goes by. i voluntarily recused myself in any retransmission items or tv related items. >> this is a pertinent issue, you brought up rural issues just a little bit ago about things that we face, you know, carriage disputes and tv blackouts, and those are things across the board that we see, but i hear frustration about that back home so are those issues that you think that the commission is going to be able to pass 4-0,
11:06 am
3-1? some of that kind of counters earlier comments that you made about the commission being deadlocked? >> yeah, let me address that. i cannot think of one instance where the full commission has decided a carriage dispute to the extent that those are ever brought before the fcc, and they are usually revolved -- the media bureau would be the first to resolve them, and only if one of the media bureau's decision would make it go up to the commission. i can't think of when a carriage dispute went up to the full commission, and i can't remember a carriage dispute being resolved before the media
11:07 am
bureau, and because of the parties because there are marketplace pressures, usually revolve it. when i was at the fcc, we put out a further notice of rule making, and that talked about possible changes to the retransmission consent regime -- >> i do have one more -- >> we never move forward because it's so complicated. i will shorten it. >> i realize that you are recusing yourself voluntarily on the retransmission consent and the broadcast copy right issues, and you made sure your recusal did not impact the telecommunications act. did any part of the locast settlement directly or indirectly include ownership
11:08 am
issues? >> it did not. just to be clear, the ethics officials there, they did see the settlement agreement and determined it requires no extra -- no additional recusals on my part. >> thank you, madam chair. >> senator tester? or senator peters. if not, senator blackburn. >> thank you, madam chair. we appreciate you coming back today. you and i have had so many conversations through the year, i think they know our positions to retransand ip laws and some of those things. i do want to get to a couple of things. let me ask you this. are you an activist, yes or no? >> i am an advocate. >> advocate. okay. you classify yourself as a
11:09 am
public interest advocate, correct? >> yes. >> what is the difference between the two terms, advocate and activist? >> i am not sure there is that much of a difference. i work to ensure that the public is educated on communications and technology policy issues. i mean, you know -- people think the word activist as if it's something bad, and i don't think it's bad but i consider myself a public advocate. >> as your term you used earlier, it's a distinction without a difference probably. let me ask if you agree with the following actions because these are actions that were carried out by organizations that you have both praised and have been on the record of donating to in the past. i think this is a good way to kind of see where you stand on -- with some of these things.
11:10 am
okay, one of the organizations advocating sending a mob to the home of an fcc chairman to pressure him to act on net neutrality. you, yourself, were interviewed about your role in this event? >> i think you are referring to the time a group laid down in front of chairman wheeler's car and would not let him come to work, and i obviously did not support that. in fact, i made the phone call and did this many times at the fcc when the activist would flood our boxes with e-mails, thousands of them, and i would make a call to make it stop. >> so you are not deeply deeply intertwined -- >> no, it was my job to tell
11:11 am
these people to stop and i did. >> another organization you were involved with encouraged people to threaten violence against an fcc chairman and family and staff due to his views on net neutrality? >> what group was that, senator blackburn? >> i am not sure if it was fight for the future or free press. >> i am in no way affiliated with those groups. do i make contributions at the end of the years because of the connections, sure. >> another group put up build boards and public materials calling senator sinema, who is a member of this committee, a
11:12 am
telecom shield and corrupt, and another calling for senator cantwell as pandering to the industry, and what i want to know is will you publicly disavow these organizations like fight for the future and free press, who spearheaded these efforts? >> well, i have -- i have publicly already -- i have publicly -- let's put it this way -- i don't think i have publicly criticized, but i certainly criticized with those tactics. i don't agree with those tactics and i told them so. the organizations -- look, we are all affiliated with organizations that we don't like -- >> my time is running out.
11:13 am
it is of concern to me, because you have tweeted support for these groups. you have made donations to these groups, and then you have been a public interest advocate for the issues, you share the sentiment that these groups are pushing forward because you have advocated for them, so being impartial as a commissioner separating yourself, there's been a lot of discussion about recusal today, and these are things that people -- and rightfully so we are very concerned about this. you have taken very pointed positions towards broadband carriers, including calling some of their actions cruel and tone deaf. you said repeal of net neutrality would encourage them to, and i am quoting you, rip
11:14 am
consumers off at will, end quote. do you think you can be unbiassed when you are working with these companies, because while you are recused on media issues, it seems like you can't be impartial when it comes to the other issues, and this is my concern. >> i understand, senator. let me assure you that whatever i may have said as a public advocate will have no bearing on how i look at the record and make decisions. this is the thing at being at the fcc, you have to look at the totality of the record and make a decision based on that record. so what i said in my previous job, just like chairman pie, my work with georgetown and my work with benton is not going to look
11:15 am
at how i look at and balance the record of a proceeding. >> thank you. senator peters is next. we have had information age is an interesting period, so we have had people putting more ask more knowledgeable people on these commissions, whether it's fcc or ftc or firk, they have been very knowledgeable staff people. i would say mr. o'reilly was -- probably had distinct opinions, maybe not distinct enough in some cases, but there might be a future person from this staff at some point in time that might like to be on the ftc, so i appreciate your answer there. senator peters. >> thank you, madam chair, and ms. sohn, congratulations on your nomination, and we get to
11:16 am
see you again in person to ask our questions. the bipartisan infrastructure law established the affordable connectivity that provides discounts on services, up to $30 a month for low-income house how olds and $70 for those on tribal land and according to estimates almost 2.5 million michigans will be eligible for discounts, and an incredibly important aspect of the package, and i don't think many people realize how important it is to have access to high speed broadband internet. there's a whole lot more work to do and last month the fcc began
11:17 am
saw listeting comments. a large number of households would benefit, but a small share that rely on federal housing assistance is going to be enrolled in the process, and this underscores why it's so important that the fcc strengthens its outreach and awareness to the discounts. can you comment on how your experience and work as a public interest advocate would inform the fcc's goal to expand discounts and making services affordable? >> senator peters, that's a great question, and my experience and connections with the public interest community make me uniquely qualified if i
11:18 am
was confirmed among those sitting on the fcc, and i have relationships with state legislators and state policymakers and public utilities commissions and public service commissions, and i have relationships with libraries and educational institutions. when i had a role at dex, it was really fat, and how is this program working, how can we fix it and how can we strengthen it and how can we get libraries and schools to be part of this program? yeah, i see that as a really important role for me is using those relationships on the ground to try and build a more successful program. >> could you explain why having a fifth commissioner will ensure that the fcc is able to implement this robust plan, to
11:19 am
address these and other issues associated with the affordable connectivity program? >> congress obviously mandated the program be implemented, so you are going get buy in in starting the program and getting it running, but there will always be little issues at the margins that could be really important that you might not be able to get a 3-1 or 4-0 vote. let me use an example, there was a debate and a fervent one over folks should have to give the last four numbers of their social security number, and that's important to folks that are not necessarily citizens, and while the two republicans did vote for that, vote for not having to require the last four numbers of the social security number to get the affordable connectivity program, it was one
11:20 am
of those issues that really, really shows that you are not always going to get unanimity or 3-1, and you need that fifth vote. there are issues on the margins that could be critically important to the successful use and implementation and oversight of the affordable connectivity program where you need that deciding vote. most of the fcc votes are not 3-2 votes, and there are votes where you need that extra vote. >> thank you. >> ms. sohn, welcome back. [ inaudible ] >> i think it's a fair description, you have indicated you support, quote, reasonable broadband pricing. my question is, are those two
11:21 am
things inconsistent? >> could you give me a little more context where i might have talked -- who doesn't reasonable broadband pricing? did i say the fcc should implement the pricing or regulate, because i don't know where i said that? >> i don't know where you said the fcc should regulate, and let me ask you, should they? >> no, and at the last hearing i expressly disavowed any support for the fcc implementing rate regulations, and tried to do it in the '90s with cable and it did not work out well, so i would not support it. >> your statement in the last hearing stands and whatever you said previously doesn't contradict that as far as -- >> is that a distinction with a
11:22 am
difference, i would say. >> thank you. and over building, we are putting a lot of dollars -- congress is putting a lot of dollars into broadband deployment as usda and now at the department of commerce and certainly at the fcc. one of my things that i have championed is putting that into places that have no connectivity and need speed, and will you make certain that the dollars and the statutory instructions that those dollars go to places that are -- would not be over building? does that comply with your views and is there any exception to that rule? >> so i support the framework of the bipartisan infrastructure law that tasks the tia, not the fcc, although i think it's a fine model for the fcc as well,
11:23 am
to spend the money in underserved areas first, and then and only then when they provided the money to unserved areas, then they go to under served. i think it's important for those that have not very good connectivity -- particularly, look, in rural areas, as so much of kansas is, they have farmers and they can't do their farming with 25/3, and they have it and they have stuff that does not allow them to make a living. i don't know if you would agree that once the money goes to places that don't have anything, then folks that do have something, but something that is inadequate should also get the money. >> i don't disagree with that. i would say setting the standard is the way you can take care of
11:24 am
more and serve all, but you are right, lots of agriculture producers -- this is not just being on the internet at home at night looking at a movie, this is how you earn a living a lot of places across kansas in agriculture and elsewhere. net neutrality, my understanding is the ranking member, senator wicker and sinema have formed a group to address concerns about net neutrality, and i wish we on a less than party line vote could develop what would be policy in this arena. can you explain why the fcc, 23 you believe this, should preempt congressional efforts to get legislation passed -- a policy decision for congress. >> i guess i don't consider it
11:25 am
preempting it but working alongside it, and in the paper that i referred to before, i said the fcc should reinstate its authority, but at the same time it should work with congress about the collusion. i feel passionately about this because i think congress has frankly allowed this back and forth ping pong game, and i don't want to blame anybody in particular, to go on too long, and we could debate what appropriate authority is, as well as give them specific authority to either adopt neutrality rules, and right naught fcc does not have oversight of broadband, and if the fcc were to act, that could kick start the congressional progress. i would love to work with folks that want to see this revolved.
11:26 am
>> a theme of mine is congress needs to work and do its job and work together, and we have different points of view, and everything doesn't have to be a 3-2 vote, and i want congress to deal with net neutrality, and i prefer that to the fcc by a 3-2 vote or whatever it might be having that result. >> thank you, senator. senator rosen. >> thank you, chairman and ms. sohn. i want to thank you for coming and meeting me in my office to discuss the real issues that we have back home in nevada, which have been raised by my constituents and agreeing to come to nevada and meet with everybody if confirmed. i appreciate you reaffirming your commitment to broadcast
11:27 am
diversity, on what others have said, but these are two critical priorities for nevada. our state is more than a quarter of latino, and we place a premium on greater representation in broadcast spaces. therefore i was glad to hear from you about your interest in removing barriers from minority-owned broadcast stations. you are here again and i will ask you for the record, you did commit to this in my office, and if confirmed you will come to nevada as soon as possible to meet key stakeholders on the ground including nevada broadcasters to hear their concerns and engage in the important dialogue on the issues within the fcc's jurisdiction important to nevada? >> i just started watching the tv show "hacks," which takes
11:28 am
place in nevada, so i would love to come. >> that tv show is great, but the best thing about being in all of nevada -- i am sitting here by montana, but we have great blue skies and beautiful mountains and they are on display every single day, so you will enjoy the scenery as well. but we want to talk more about the bipartisan infrastructure law, and so if confirmed you will have a significant role in helping to close the digital divide, something again, everybody is concerned about. as one of the members who worked on developing the bipartisan infrastructure law, and helped to draft many of the broadband provisions, i know this is a once in a generation investment in our nation's infrastructure, and we have to have the staff and the resources to make this investment a reality, and that includes a fully functioning fcc. the new law sets forth several
11:29 am
significant markers that need to be hit soon, including one that relates to the mapping program, maps are critical to us doing our job and that is tied to the new laws, broadband deployment program, and unless we map it, how do we know where we need it? could you explain the law lowing the barriers? >> you hit the nail on the head, and the first thing that needs to happen is those maps need to get done, and as one testified last week, they can't get out the money until the maps are finished. i will -- if i am confirmed i will be a partner to the chair to get those maps done and get them done accurately. obviously the fcc also has oversight and has to implement the affordable connectivity
11:30 am
program, which provides a $30 subsidy to folks that cannot afford broadband and that's something that will be very important as well, and even on top of that, the fcc is tasked with doing a report on the future of the universal service, and how the broadband -- the bipartisan infrastructure law actually reduces or changes in some way its obligations under universal service, because there has been a lot of talk of how broken the universal service is, and getting that report done right will have recommendations not only for the fcc but also for congress on how to make sure there's ongoing funding for broadband and lifeline in the future. we have a lot of work to do. >> i am glad my mid mile
11:31 am
broadband deployment bill is part of that act. i brought up my mountains -- not my mountains, but the nevada mountains and skyline for a reason because our terrain is difficult, and we have rural and tribal areas, and really frontier where one of the most mountainous states is very rough to go through, and so laying fiber is not always possible, terrain just gets in the way. based on the discussions about some of our unique broadband challenges, can you tell us how you might have confirmed help ensure our tribal communities separated again by challenging terrain can have equal access to the high quality affordable broadband. >> it's preferred to have, you know, the most future proof, the most resilient, the most, you know, high-powered broadband out
11:32 am
there, however, there are areas because of geography that will need to be served by other technologies, by fix wireless and satellite, and the fcc and fta needs to be -- in fact, i just had a fascinating conversation with the vice president and president of the navajo nation of how they can increase their sovereignty over their broadband, and i have visited gila river, and it's in arizona, and it completely transform it. >> yeah, can change health care and education.
11:33 am
thank you, i have ran out of time. >> ms. sohn, thank you for being here today. i think it's important to discuss previous statements you have made. you previously tweeted that, quote, fox news have had the most negative impact on our democracy, and it's state-sponsored propaganda. unquote. whether you are a fan of fox news or not, i think it's disturbing that somebody nominated to the communications commission has such a negative opinion over one network or another. and you said my opinion as a public interests advocate will have no will on my behavior. it's become a detriment to our society, and i think more than ever we need more public discourse, not less.
11:34 am
not only have you advocated for censorship, but that you would recuse yourself. i don't know how the american public can trust you. if the american public would be better served if we had a nominee that could participate in the commission's work without recusal. i have a few questions for you, and i will go through them and you can answer them. given your documented negative comments about republicans and conservative broadcasters, how can you expect the american public to trust you as impartial and apolitical? you say you did not believe the government should regulate internet rates, however you indicated in the tweet in 2020
11:35 am
that the fcc had the authority to mandate low cost broadband plans, and that sounds regulation to me. has your position changed on internet rate regulation? >> there's a lot there, so let me take it one at a time. i think the ideology tweet, if i recall, i was upset because there was an effort to try and expand e-rate during the pandemic to households, so that e-rate funds could be used for kids at home because of the pandemic. i was told by a hill staffer that republicans didn't want to expanded the e-rate program, they didn't want to turbo charge that, something along those lines. my tweets, including that one you have up there have been said, in the tone that i would regret today, they were in the process of debates. in my role as a public advocate,
11:36 am
as part of a debate over policy, okay. they are not some personal opinion that i just threw out there, they were part of my role as a public advocate. let me also say, i have praised republicans on twitter, including senators wicker, moran, sass, romney, murkowski and holly, and we gave representative issa an award, so i have criticized democrats and i can list those if you would like in the iqr, so do i generally criticized republicans more than democrats, probably? given who i am, it's not a surprise, but it's not a one-way street, and i want to make that clear. let me talk about that tweet in particular, it was done in the
11:37 am
context of a hearing about social media and how they have a negative impact in our democracy. fox news is not a regularity of the fcc. my tone was a little sharp, but i don't think it would impact the work i have to do with the fcc because i would have no oversight if i am confirmed over fox news, and if i did, just say are to the heck of it, i would have to consult with the board and congress before my position. >> based on all of this you think you are impartial? >> absolutely. i have been on the same side or on the opposite side of every regulated industry. i have had people -- so people may have seen my friend, preston
11:38 am
patton, who worked for murdoch and disney, and he wrote a letter to the committee, and folks that i disagree with vehemently on policy issues still support me because they know i am fair and unbiassed and they know my door will be open and i will always listen. absolutely i believe that i can be impartial. >> thank you. senator young -- senator sullivan, sorry. senator sullivan. >> thank you, madam chair. i don't know where to begin here. i, too, am very disturbed -- we had a discussion last hearing, ms. sohn, on your tweets. look, we are not nominating you for any normal assistant secretary, and you are the fcc commissioner, enormous power, particularly relates to free speech -- it actually relates to
11:39 am
liberty in our country, and i think senator scott raises some really important points, which is i don't see how you can be unbiassed. fox news is state-sponsored media, propaganda. republicans know the only way they can win an election is to suppress the vote. your ragity white president would -- wow, that's way out there, right? you think most republicans are racists and white supremacists? >> absolutely not, senator sullivan. >> that's not what your re-tweet -- >> i am not familiar with that tweet but will look at it. >> do you remember retweeting that one? >> i probably retweeted over
11:40 am
10,000 times, so i don't remember. >> i think your average american is tired of this, the number of biden nominees that came out and tweeted about republicans being white supremacists and racists, and it's like that is how you get nominated in this administration. people are tired of it. i raised issue with the comptroller of the currency, and she was socialist views, and democrats pulled her nom. you know what she said when she was asked about republican criticism of her views. quote, they are racists. people are tired of this. do you have a view on this? do you think all republicans are racists? >> no, absolutely not, and i have praised many republicans off twitter, on twitter, and giving them awards when i ran a non-profit. >> your organization that you ran for many years, public
11:41 am
knowledge, i believe, they called this hearing pointless. do you think this hearing is pointless? >> i have not been affiliated with public knowledge for eight years, and i left in 2018, and their opinion is their opinion -- >> do you think the hearing is pointless? >> no, i think it has a point. >> do you think the u.s. senate having a committee looking at the ethics and recusal issues of a very important powerful nominee, do you think that's pointless? >> no, senator sullivan. i am hear to answer all of your questions. i am happy to answer every question you have for me, and i will answer honestly and to the best of my knowledge. >> so you don't support chairman cantwell to be removed --
11:42 am
>> of course, not. >> you have this recusal, and i think your recusal raises more questions than answers. by the logic of your recusal letter, shouldn't you be recusing yourself from proceedings involving every issue that public knowledge has filed while you were president? >> absolutely not. >> why? >> i explained this before. >> please be brief, because i have more questions. >> all right. the reason that i filed this letter was because he was addressing specific concerns, including you, senator sullivan, about my involvement in locast, and i should have put it in the letter, and instead i tied it to precedent, i tied it to a 12-year-old petition, but certainly it had to do with the
11:43 am
concern that i counted no fewer of the eight members of this committee and my involvement in locast. >> but the public filings by public knowledge all go to the heart of matters in which you are going to be empowered to rule on, so you have come in as the president and co founder of that organization with all kinds of views as it relates to many of these issues, not random issues, but issues front and center in terms of your power should you be confirmed. isn't that the definition of meaning you need to be recused? i think the recusal here is just the tip of the iceberg as it relates to the locast settlement. i think you should be recused in the 1,100 public filings, and if that's the case you might not as well be confirmed because you weighed in on everything.
11:44 am
>> senator, this is a voluntary recusal, and i have other examples as well on a narrow issue -- >> you are not answering my question. you weighed in -- >> senator sullivan, she has -- >> it's important. i am not badging her. i am trying to get her to answer my question. >> she said she will answer your question. we do have a vote under way, so everybody has gotten their first five minutes. would you yield to senator wicker for his questions and then you can come back and ask more, would that be possible? >> yes. >> thank you. >> i will go vote now. >> just quickly, ms. sohn, you have repeatedly talked about the confidentiality provision in this settlement. you have the settlement in front of you. >> i do. >> is that paragraph 6.0 --
11:45 am
we're having trouble finding that in the agreement. >> yep, it's right here. >> read that to us. >> no party will communicate or authorize anybody to contact or communicate with the media or press concerning the agreement or order or issue any press release or other written statement disclosing the terms of the agreement. if asked by the media or press about the agreement, they may only state the litigation is over and refer the personal inspiring to the order. >> so it seems to me that paragraph 6.0 is about press releases and speaking to the press. i noticed you emphasized in your voice, other written statement. you clearly were not prohibited by this paragraph from answering a question to the commerce committee to the united states
11:46 am
senate? >> that is not what -- how i was advised by counsel. i was advised by counsel that i could not reveal, because -- partly because whatever is in my qfr is going straight to the press, and that's republic. >> we could really tie ourselves in knots over that, and i don't think this prohibits you from answering forthrightly to the committee for the record. another thing, you said you did not get anything in exchange for your recusal. it is a fact that you pretty much turned the national association of broadcasters around because of your recusal, is that not correct? >> that's not correct. they do not support my nomination. they are remaining neutral, which is where they were before. >> here's what i have that when
11:47 am
your nomination came out, they expressed grave concerns. after the recusal they said this. the ceo of nab, mr. curtis laget, the recusal -- 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 compliment of commissioners in the very near future. if that is neutral statement, that's not the way i read it. i read it as very supportive. >> well, except i asked curtis,
11:48 am
we talked after the letter was filed and he told me nab is not supporting my nomination and they are remaining neutral. >> did you talk to anybody there about signing this recusal? >> nope. >> just so members know, i am trying to get the last questions in and get to the vote. if there's anybody else out there, you better come now because we would like to get to the vote. thank you. senator sullivan. >> thank you, madam chair. ms. sohn, i do want to go back to the issue that i just raised here a couple minutes ago, and it goes to this issue of recusal. again, we all have our views, right? i think a lot of the industry has taken neutral position in
11:49 am
part because you are going to have so much power over them, which i think is also troubling. there's a recent letter to senator cantwell and wicker from ntca, and they raised the same issue i just raised, and michael powell, a former commissioner, very well respected, and in the letter he said first there's no explanation for why these particular broadcast matters are singled out given the breath of the issues in which public knowledge was involved under ms. sohn's leadership, her recusal should logically extend to all matters in which public knowledge was active or conversely none of those activities should give rise to the recusal. you are in the middle zone,
11:50 am
right? you are saying i am going to be recused, yet you are half in to address some of the issues senator wicker mentioned, but you have weighed in, you and your organization -- you were the co founder of the that is kinds of issues that are going to be front and center and goes directly to senator scott's previous question which is, how can you come into this from the perspective of a neutral observer who doesn't have predisposed view on some of these issues? that's a polite way of saying or more legitimately for this hearing, which i don't think is pointless, that this goes to the issue of conflicts. seems to me you have conflicts everywhere and that makes your impartiality not to mention your judgment. i think you have very big issues with judgment given your previous tweets.
11:51 am
half the american population as white supremacists probably not very good judgment. but again to the the recusal issue, these are front and center issues that are directly that are going to be before you if you get confirmed. >> my recusal is tenured as a broad member of locast. the way you're describing my recusal is untethered to any concern that is raised by this committee about any relationship that i had, okay. >> this committee in the form of me is raising concerns right now about your advocacy as the head of public knowledge. >> i understand, senator. and by your logic -- >> by the way, it's not just me. you have the industry. one of the elements of the industry that you're going to regulate has the same issues. this is one of many letters we've received.
11:52 am
yes, senator, let me try to explain. by your logic nobody who had taken a public position a private lawyer, a lawyer in private practice and anyone able to be an fcc commissioner. >> that's not what i'm saying. >> that is what you're saying. at a certain point quantity becomes its own quality here. >> well, the ethics rules don't say that and the ethic laws don't say that. this is a voluntary, temporary, narrow recusal. >> you don't think this goes to the issue of impartiality? >> no, sir, i believe i can be impartial because i will have to look at the record. frankly, i didn't have to recuse here. i was doing this solely to address the concern of many members of this committee about my involvement. >> i think, i'd certainly believe i could be impartial with regard to retransmission
11:53 am
consent and copyright but i recuse in order to -- >> i'll ask another question here before my time runs out. net neutrality. do you think congress or the fcc have the authority to undertake net neutrality? here's more specific. many of us on both sides of the aisle, senator thune, senator sinema and cantwell have been working on this issue. now it's complicated. it's taking a long time, you know, that's part of our constitutional structure, as you know. ask james madison about how long it can take to make a law, particularly on something very complicated. here's the question i have. is it ever okay to say hey, look, new elected official not very knowledgeable, you're taking too long, let us experts get to work and we'll devise net
11:54 am
neutrality rules. this is what chairman wheeler did. i know you worked for him. who has the authority to undertake net neutrality legislation? >> well, legislation, obviously, congress. the fcc adopts policy and the d.c. circuit has said that the fcc have the authority. >> what if we take too long? it has taken a long time. >> that's a bad intro because you're over another 40 seconds here. >> madam chair, it's a very important question. >> you're on round two and these guys are in round one. >> can she answer the question? >> please. >> i would love to see congress settle the matter of net neutrality, but until then the fcc has the authority to act in the federal courts and in the mozilla case authority to repeal them. >> i wasn't -- she answered that
11:55 am
same question with some of our colleagues that's why i was, you know, trying to speed it up. okay, we have senator young and then senator cruz. >>. >> welcome. you are required to recuse yourself from any matter you can have a financial benefit, however, has been discussed repeatedly today you chose to submit a voluntary letter of recusal to the fcc acting council on january 27th informing them that should you be confirmed you would recuse yourself from any matter, quote, where retransmission consent or television broadcast copyright is a material issue, unquote. this is done to ensure that the public has full confidence that policymakers will make decisions
11:56 am
free of bias. your letter goes on to explain that you signed a petition for rulemaking and the fcc rulemaking process for this issue. as my colleagues have discussed, the committee is in possession of a list of other issues that may show that you have a potential bias dating back to 2001. many of these also show your signature. i won't list every instance here, of course, but i'll include them in my questions for the record. today, however, can you reiterate for me why you would recuse yourself regarding retransmission consent but not other issues or more specifically when you'll voluntarily recuse yourself in the future. >> the reason i submitted this letter was to address concerns from many members of this committee over my involvement
11:57 am
with locast and i tied that to a position for rulemaking that i signed 12 years ago. that is very, very narrow. now, if there are other documents i signed while i was public knowledge i would be happy to talk about ethics about whether i should recuse, i am happy to do that. anyone can challenge my impartiality. anyone can do that. but this is the only issue because of the general concern and the committee that i am agreeing to voluntary recuse myself temporarily from a set of very narrow issues highly unlikely to come before the commissioner. >> so, i believe you said before this voluntary recusal is a purple cow. and a reflection of concern from a number of members of this committee during your hearing last december. some of my colleagues have pointed out that the committee is favorably reported nominees
11:58 am
that reportedly work in industry and particular industry aligned associations and have alluded to the idea that some of our serious questions for you are simply a result of your experiences of public interest advocate. that's unfortunate because we're sitting here genuinely attempting to understand the source, the details and future impact of your voluntary recusal. and while you did point to that, you just mentioned the precedent to a 1998 recusal as precedent. it raises questions of how this is all going to play out in the future. so, i'll ask you, how binding is your recusal letter? >> well, it's voluntary. so, i could, again, with advice of ethics council, if needs be, unrecuse myself or give me license. so it's not permanently binding. >> okay. so you can simply rescind it, if
11:59 am
you chose? >> well, i would not rescind it without, without consulting with counsel. that is absolutely. i can make you that promise. i'm not inclined to rescind it, period. but let's say the chair came to me and said, gigi, i need you on this issue and it's kind of, you know, it's kind of a gray area and will you talk to counsel about it whether you can participate whether there's a problem with impartiality which is the standard from the ethics rules that you look at. i would do that. >> thank you for that. one final thing. so, i think you've laid the foundation for this. having said all of that and having reassured the committee and members of the public do you have any concern that anyone that might be affected by your decisions this could undermine trust in the fcc's stability moving forward, if that recusal changed.
12:00 pm
at some point in the future. since you do have the flexibility to change it after consultation with ethics council. >> i don't think so. look, i had overwhelming support from the public, from real people, actually. 350,000 citizens have weighed in on my behalf. 250 organizations, including some of the, i didn't get to talk to senator scott about the censorship issue when i have support from the president of one america network and the ceo of newsmax and the president of the parents television council. can we put the censorship thing to bed, it's a little bit ridiculous. in any event. no, i think there's an overwhelming desire prom the public that they sit on the fcc not that they don't sit on the fcc. >> thank you. >> senator cruz. >> thank you, madam chair. the biden administration has a pattern of abusing their power. abusing their power and getting struck down in court over and
12:01 pm
over again. as you know, i have significant concerns about your record. that you demonstrated a hostility to conservative speech in particular, to fox news in particular. and the fcc is a very dangerous place for a regulator to have the authority to silence political views with which you disagree. but we now have a second issue that implicates ethics that i think is deeply serious. you were a board member of the nonprofits sports fans coalition new york, which operated the locast streaming service. you joined the board knowing they were sued for copyright infringement. a federal district court entered summary judgment for the plaintiffs that they had engaged in copyright infringement. that they had broken the law.
12:02 pm
ultimately the case was settled. i have to say, ms. sohn, the timing of the settlement stinks. biden administration announced their intent to nominate you on october 26, 2021. the confidential settlement agreement was signed on october 27th, 2021. the day after the intent to nominate. your actual nomination was made october 28th the next day, and on that day, a public settlement was filed. the public settlement claims that the plaintiffs, abc, nbc, cbs, were going to be paid $32 million. that they had $32 million in damages. that was the public settlement announced on the day of your nomination. what nobody knew at the time was that the secret settlements cut $32 million down to $700,000. that's two cents on the dollar. i've litigated a lot of cases.
12:03 pm
i've settled a lot of cases. i don't recall ever settling a case that my clients had won that we had a victorious court judgment for two cents on the dollar, but, you know what, i've never had a case against someone who is about to be the regulator of my industry. on the face of that, that's a sweetheart deal. did you disclose that sweetheart deal, pay to the company on whose board you served or rather not paid from the company that is essentially a gift from the company's the fcc regulate. did you disclose to the committee that agreement? >> i did. senator, let me just explain first. i was not a party. there is no sweetheart deal. number one, i was never financially liable from the day i stepped on the board because there was a case narrowing agreement -- >> did you disclose the agreement to this committee? >> i did.
12:04 pm
i said the matter was settled. >> hold on a second. the matter was settled doesn't answer it. did you disclose the secret settlement agreement that settled it for $700,000 not the $32 million, did you disclose it to this committee? yes or no? >> i did. >> you disclosed the $700,000 secret settlement? >> no, i was not allowed, i was not permitted. >> what part of the agreement says you're not allowed to? i have it in front of me provision 6.0. here's what it says. no party will communicate or authorize anyone to contact or communicate with the media press earlier in writing or otherwise concerning the agreement of the order. last time i checked the united states senate is not the press. there's nothing in this agreement that prohibits you from disclosing it to the senate. you did not disclose it to the senate. let me ask you this. did you disclose it to the white house? >> well, again, everything was --
12:05 pm
>> did you disclose the $700,000 secret settlement to the white house? >> no, i did not. >> you did not disclose it to the white house? >> i was vetted long before -- can i talk about the timing, senator, if i may? >> sure. >> the settlement, first of all, it's important. i was not a party to the settlement and i can explain why i signed the settlement agreement if you want to talk about that. i was not a party -- >> did you know about it? >> what? >> the settlement? the two cents on the dollar. the $31,300,000 that abc, cbs and nbc effectively gave away to the company on whose board you sat? >> of course, i did. >> the day you were nominated? >> no. because i didn't sign it until after i was nominated. >> why does it matter when you signed it? you knew about it and you didn't disclose it to this committee? >> yes, i did. let me just step back for a second. can we talk about the timing
12:06 pm
because you're wrong on the timing. there was a term sheet, an enforceable term sheet that i did not sign that lays out -- >> what statement i said was wrong? >> that's october 12th. that's referred to in the settlement agreement. if you look at the beginning of the settlement agreement -- >> you knew about the sweetheart deal two weeks earlier. fine. that does not change the timing. >> there's no sweetheart deal. i don't benefit -- it's not a sweetheart deal as to me. first of all, it's a settlement. you have these four powerful networks against a tiny little nonprofit. >> by the way, it's striking. the one network that didn't sign the agreement was fox news. fox news also happens to be the news that you've shown -- i have to say, i've been in the senate ten years now. i have never seen a nominee for any regulatory board who at the exact moment of her nomination
12:07 pm
saw the companies that would be regulated by her effectively give a $31,300,000 gift to a company on whose board she sits. that is truly stunning and disturbing. >> senator, respectfully, i would like to explain. the judge, first of all, they were not, locast was not found to infringe copyright. they were found to only have not qualified for the congressionally mandated nonprofit exemption. so, there's no -- there was no, the judge did not say, the judge did not say locast violated copyright and did not impose a $32 million judgment. okay. >> is this accurate from what was publicly filed. quote, plaintiffs are awarded statutory damages under the copyright act against sports fans of new york in the amount
12:08 pm
of $32 million. that's what was publicly announced and the secret agreement was it was reduced to $700,000. >> i have to interrupt because i have to go and vote and i wanted to get a few things in but i'm going to ask senator rosen to take over. senator lee is actually next. but i am going to submit something for the record as it relates to privacy. we've been in this big privacy discussion and the privacy discussion has been also in questions that we've asked to the ftc and fcc commissioners who have been here about the, whether some of those that isp sector should be -- >> madam chair, are you going to let her answer the question? >> yes, i am going to. yes. >> there was a question that -- >> you mean your question, senator? yes. i'm trying -- she's answered this question about five times already that's why i'm trying to get in something and i have to go vote. we're trying to be very accommodating here. but now the floor is 40 minutes into a vote and you know we have
12:09 pm
a caller who is trying to cut members off. i'm trying to put something into the record and then we'll go to senator lee. >> so you won't let her answer the question. >> she's answered it and she can continue to answer after i leave and then we'll go to senator lee. okay, the point is you keep putting misinformation out there and she'll answer it and i'll answer it, as well. but i'm trying to get this on to the record. so, please, if you could, you could do it for the record. the issue is moving those isps under the ftc versus the fcc. and we had a hearing about broadband and broadband we also had a hearing about the facebooks and held this very important hearing and we're working on privacy legislation. and i will submit a question and this recent ftc report saying that these isps were doing some
12:10 pm
of the same behaviors that the larger internet companies were doing and violating people's privacy is something we want to get on the record and maybe it's something we should be having hearings about for the future. okay. you can go ahead and finish, but we want to get to -- >> senator, you are looking at the stipulated consent judgment and permanent injunction. that states that the plaintiffs are awarded statutory damages in the amount of $32 million. and that was filed on the 28th. okay. the agreement, the $700,000 agreement was agreed to long before that. the language is in there because the networks wanted that language. between new york and the four networks and the networks wanted that language in order to scare away anybody who might want to start locast 2.0.
12:11 pm
>> you say you didn't sign the secret agreement. i'm holding the signature page and your signature is on it with the date of october 27th. >> but that's -- >> you signed the secret agreement. the public agreement says $32 million and the secret agreement says $700,000 and you kept that secret. >> well, because it's a confidential agreement. >> now under the terms of it, you were not allowed to talk to the press about it, but you were allowed -- >> that's not as counsel has advised me. i could not speak about it orally or in writing. >> that's what the provision says. >> that's how you interpret it and that's not how i was advised by counsel. the larger point is that the judge never issued a mandate or said anything about $32 million. that language was part of a negotiation between sports fans coalition new york and the networks. the networks wanted that language in there to scare off
12:12 pm
any future locast that might come off in the future, okay. but that was not -- the judge did not impose a $32 million fine. okay. that language is there as part of an agreement and, again, that document was filed long after the agreement to pay $700,000 was agreed to because that was agreed to on october 12th, two weeks before i was nominated and i didn't even know at the time and neither did the parties whether and when i would be nominated. i honestly had given up at that point because i had been vetted many, many months before. >> thank you. senator lee has been waiting patiently for his time and we're in the middle of a vote, so, senator lee, please. >> one of the reasons why some hearings like this can become heated and contentious has to do with the immense authority that the fcc has and that relates to some of the questions i wanted to ask. who has lawmaking authority under our constitutional system? a federal agency or is it
12:13 pm
congress? >> congress. >> so it stems from that. therefore, an agency shouldn't be legislating. that's an agency shouldn't be prescribing rules of general applicability to the public without authority from congress, would you agree with that? >> yes. >> should -- an agency once granted that authority should confine its rulemaking authority to that delegated by congress, correct? >> yes. >> now what about where there's ambiguity. should a federal agency that's charged with administering one of these statutes granting some delegation, should they harness the ambiguity and then use that to parlay it into their rulemaking power to force the hand of congress? >> senator, i've lived and died by the chevron doctrine and the supreme court has said that where language of the law is
12:14 pm
ambiguous, unless what an agency does is arbitrary and capricious they get deference. >> i think i see the point you're describing and i agree with your first two answers and i also understand the chevron document and what it says and what it does. it's important to contrast the answers that you provided in response to my first two questions, which i wholeheartedly agree with other statements that you've made, some of which concern me. one of them that concerns me in particular deals with what i think a pretty good example of the kind of thing that i'm concerned about in administrative law generally which is the harnessing of statutory ambiguity in the text in order to force the hand of congress, the very entity that must delegate the rulemaking power in question. because when that happens, the people's elected lawmakers no longer are in the driver's seat. now, this particular statement
12:15 pm
that i want to draw your attention to is one that you made specifically in the context of net neutrality when asked a question about net neutrality legislation. here's what you said. quote, as became clear during the covid-19 pandemic, broadband is an essential service and cannot continue without oversight. therefore, while i would urge swift congressional action, consumers cannot be left unprotected while congress deliberates. so, we both just agreed that an agency shouldn't exercise rulemaking power, absent congressional delegation, authorization to do that very thing and yet that does seem to be the opposite of what you had just said you would like to do. in other words, you're saying that while congress deliberates, if congress doesn't act to your liking and to your satisfaction, the fcc would have to jump in and make up the difference. how can those two things be
12:16 pm
reconciled? because if you're trying to force the hand of the agency of the lawmaking body of the federal government by doing that which only congress can do, how is that constitutional? >> well, i guess i might have misunderstood you. obviously, where congress has said specifically that agency cannot act, it cannot act. but where it's ambiguous, chevron counsels that the agency can act. look, there are people and i'm not sure if the fcc and i know when i was at the fcc and we adopted we didn't act in order to force congress' hand. now, i would like congress to act. but we acted because we believe that broadband needed to have some oversight and consumers needed to be protected and competition needed to be promoted. >> then why urge swift congressional action if congress need not act? >> because we've gone through
12:17 pm
this ping-pong game now for 20 years where you have a democrat in office saying title two or authority and you have a republican comes along and says, no, deregulate. i mean, this is not good for anybody. it's not good for consumers. it's not good for industry. so, yeah, i'd like to see congress resolve the question. >> let's talk about another quote. this is from you. quote, while it's usually preferable that congress be explicit in a direction, there likely will be instances where an agency must rely on its expertise to interpret the intent of congress. now, you just stated and you and i both agree that congress is the lawmaking body. and that an agency should exercise only that rulemaking power delegated by congress. so, how does an agency's expertise interpret the intent of congress? and is the intent of congress actually what's at play or is it the meaning of the statutory
12:18 pm
text, the original public meaning of the words? i think you can see my concern. my concern here is that to the extent we have federal regulatory agencies charged with administering a particular federal statutory regime. it gives them some regulatory enforcement authority. to the extent that they have, that the people operating that agency have ambitions and policy views that extend beyond what congress has utilized. especially with chevron. now being used almost as a sword, not just as a shield. to penetrate the will of congress. and to force congress' hand to act where congress has declined to act. isn't that a problem? >> let me make two points and it bears repeating many, many times. i would love to see congress act to give it appropriate --
12:19 pm
>> does it tell you that you have the power to act simply because congress doesn't act consistent with your liking? >> the d.c. circuit has said both in mozilla case that the fcc has authority to bring broadband under title two and adopt net neutrality rule. the courts have actually spoken. as i said before i lived by chevron and died by chevron. it's an inperfect document but it is the law of the land. >> thank you, senator lee. that concludes our hearing for this morning. thank you, ms. sohn for appearing before the committee today and for your continued commitment to public service. i hope that today's hearing addressed members concerns once and for all. senators will have until monday, february 14th at noon to submit questions for the record to the committee. ms. sohn will have one week to respond to those questions. thank you, again. that concludes today's hearing.
12:20 pm
12:21 pm
c-span offers a variety of podcasts that have something for every listener. weekdays "washington today" gives you the latest from the nation's capital. and every week book notes plus
12:22 pm
have in-depth interviews with writers about their latest works while "the weekly" looks at how issues of the day developed over years. and our extensive series "talking with" historians with their lives and work. many of our television programs are also available as podcasts. you can find them all on the c-span mobile app or wherever you get your podcasts. american history tv saturdays on c-span2. exploring the people and the events that tell the american story. at 2:00 p.m. eastern on the presidency abraham lincoln scholars talk about the 16th president's speeches and what they revealed about his views on the constitution. at 3:00 p.m. eastern, we'll feature the annual lincoln forum in gettysburg, pennsylvania, with discussions on abraham lincoln and the civil war and
12:23 pm
lucas morrow author of "lincoln and the founding" and carolyn janey author of "ends of war." exploring the american story. watch american history tv saturday on c-span2. and find a full schedule on your program guide or watch any time online at c-span is your unfiltered view of government. we're founded by these television companies and more, including comcast. >> you think this is a community center? no. it's way more than that. comcast is partnering with 1,000 community centers so students from low-income families can get the tools they need to be ready for anything. >> comcast supports c-span as a public service along with the other television providers giving you a front row seat to democracy.


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on