Gigi Sohn, who withdrew her nomination to the Federal Communications Commission in March, has been named executive director of the American Association for Public Broadband (AAPB), a nonprofit formed by state and local broadband officials with the mission of advocating for municipal broadband.
Sohn, who fought for confirmation as the FCC’s pivotal third Democrat after she was nominated by President Joe Biden in 2021, will remain a senior fellow and advocate for the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society. AAPB membership comprises government officials who are either already operating municipal broadband networks or plan to do so.
“Until now, there has not been a membership-based advocacy organization that works to ensure that public broadband can grow unimpeded by anti-competitive barriers," Sohn said in a statement. ”That’s despite the success of public broadband to help places like Chattanooga and the Massachusetts Berkshires transform from sleepy hamlets to vibrant centers of economic opportunity, education, and culture. We have the chance to make a positive case for states to fund and communities to choose public broadband and oppose barriers to local choice.”
Sohn has plenty of experience in the area of municipal broadband. She was a top counselor to Obama-era FCC chair Tom Wheeler, who had asserted the regulator’s power to preempt state laws blocking muni broadband expansion, bills that are backed by broadband providers.
”With more than $45 billion going to the states and tribal lands to build out broadband, I’m excited to work with public broadband providers to educate policymakers, the press and the public on the critical role public broadband plays in providing affordable, robust, and scalable broadband to communities across the country and how barriers to public broadband can hurt efforts to close the digital divide in both rural and urban America,” Sohn said.
Sohn and the AAPB are not the only ones looking hard at that $45 billion.
At almost the same time Sohn’s new job was announced, over on Capitol Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) was announcing an oversight hearing in the Communications Subcommittee May 10 focusing on how that $45 billion is being spent. ”Americans deserve every assurance these resources are truly going to help the unserved communities that need them most,“ Rodgers said.
Sohn could have a tough time selling Republicans or private broadband providers on the benefits of municipal broadband. Both have been critical of such buildouts, arguing that they wind up being government-funded overbuilds of existing private networks or fail to make it as ongoing operations, leaving taxpayers holding the bag when they fail.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.