Biden Administration

Gigi Sohn, Biden's Pick for FCC Vacancy, Is Still Pushing Pointless 'Net Neutrality' Regulations

Sohn, whose nomination could go before the Senate for a final vote within the coming weeks, is stuck in the past.


When a federal appeals court in 2010 gutted a series of regulations related to what we now call "net neutrality," Gigi Sohn predicted a bleak future for web users in which most of us would be relegated to a slower experience while a few powerful online firms had access to the speediest connections.

"You can't have innovation if all the big companies get the fast lane," Sohn, then-president of Public Knowledge, a progressive consumer rights group, told The New York Times. "Look at Google, eBay, Yahoo—none of those companies would have survived if 15 years ago we had a fast lane and a slow lane on the Internet."

Sohn, who is now President Joe Biden's nominee to fill a crucial, tiebreaking vacancy at the Federal Communications Commission, was a crucial player in the Obama administration's efforts to reinstate net neutrality regulations in 2015. After that version of rules for internet service providers (ISPs) was scrapped by the Trump administration in 2017, she went right back to predicting a worsening online experience with consumers getting unfair treatment. "Those 'fast lanes' will put those who won't or cannot pay in the slow lane," Sohn told CNN in 2018.

Federal regulations for online traffic have come and gone, and the online ecosystem is constantly in flux. But about the only constant over the past decade or so has been a steady increase in both internet speed and overall bandwidth. "From 2010 to 2020, average data consumed by U.S. households rose 37-fold," economist Thomas W. Hazlett noted in the August 2021 issue of Reason. The online applications available to any internet user today pale in comparison to what was available around the time that Sohn was first fretting about "fast lanes" for some users. The average home internet speed in 2009 was just five megabits per second—barely enough to stream Netflix in high definition, as long as you weren't doing anything else at the same time. Even the sudden surge in working and schooling from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic was no problem with today's connections.

You might say that we all ended up in the "fast lane."

But the Biden administration seems determined to reimpose net neutrality, a catchall term for a variety of federal regulations that effectively require ISPs to operate as public utilities. It might be more accurate to say that the Biden administration—and Sohn, whose nomination could go before the Senate for a final vote within the next few days or weeks, according to The Wall Street Journal—is stuck in the past, pushing a solution to a problem that never really existed and certainly doesn't right now.

That's not too surprising, considering that Biden's approach to tech regulation has mostly involved getting the band back together from the Obama years. Sohn was an aide to Tom Wheeler when he was Obama's FCC chairman, and she played a crucial role in crafting the agency's 2015 net neutrality order. Jessica Rosenworcel, the current FCC chairwoman, was originally appointed to the commission by Obama in 2011 (and reappointed by President Donald Trump in 2017). Tim Wu, the Obama administration adviser who is widely credited with coining the term net neutrality, now sits on Biden's National Economic Council.

So we're doing this all over again. But the major blind spot in Sohn's net neutrality crusade is the same as it's ever been—and the same one that beguiles many pro-regulation advocates, regardless of the specific industry or situation. It's a zero-sum mentality that assumes private businesses will conspire against consumers to expand their market share in the absence of direct government regulation.

In reality, however, internet providers haven't spent the past decade fighting over slices of the pie but rather have worked to greatly expand the size of the pie itself—benefiting their bottom lines, of course, but also greatly enhancing what consumers and internet-based businesses get to experience.

She also misses the consequences of government regulation, which tend to keep the pie from growing. Private firms have invested more than $1.7 trillion in building out wired, wireless, and cable internet since 1996. But during the two years when Sohn's preferred net neutrality rules were on the books, private investment in expanded internet service notably declined. "Only the dot-com bust and the Great Recession have triggered such declines in the past," Mark Jamison, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, summarized at the time.

Finally, the bigger pie caused by greater private investment creates more opportunities for innovation. No one can seriously look at the internet of 2022 and say, as Sohn worried in 2010, that innovation has stagnated in the absence of government regulation. Uber, TikTok, and other widely used online services of today not only didn't exist in 2010 but would have been impossible under the speed and bandwidth available to most users at the time. To favor regulation is to favor stagnation, and stagnation would have robbed us of those innovations, and whatever comes next.

But Sohn only knows one song, and she's going to keep singing it. "I am very concerned that broadband, an essential service, has been without any oversight for four years," she told members of the Senate at her confirmation hearing in December.

If ISPs were going to create the "slow lanes" that she's been worried about for years, one might wonder, why haven't they done so in the five years since the FCC's net neutrality rules were repealed? The best evidence that Sohn and other pro-regulation forces can muster are anecdotal situations in which consumers and ISPs came into conflict over the terms of service—including one high-profile case where Verizon was accused of throttling broadband service to the Santa Clara County Fire Department while it battled a major wildfire. That's a problem, of course, but it's not at all clear that the appropriate response is widespread government regulation of the internet as a public utility—and, regardless, the Federal Trade Commission already has the ability to settle those types of disputes when they arise.

The nightmare scenarios that net neutrality advocates have been warning about for decades still haven't come to pass. In fact, they were always figments of the imagination.

In that same New York Times piece that quoted Sohn in 2010, reporter Edward Wyatt included an important caveat to the prevailing doom and gloom: "As a practical matter," he wrote, "the court ruling will not have any immediate impact on Internet users, since Comcast and other large Internet providers are not currently restricting specific types of Web content and have no plans to do so."

The internet has changed a lot since 2010. This political debate, dishearteningly, has stayed the same.

NEXT: The College Campuses That Still Force Students To Wear Masks

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Stop being so critical, Eric.

    When you voted for Biden you weren't thinking about Net Neutrality. You were counting on him to liberate Orange Hitler's concentration camps and allow an unlimited influx of cost-effective foreign-born laborers for your benefactor Charles Koch. And Biden has delivered. So let's focus on the positive aspects of his Presidency.


    1. "let's focus on the positive aspects of his Presidency"

      You fuckin' heathen! You lousy goddam heretic! There are ONLY positive aspects to His Presidency. Your implication that Our Lord and Savior Biden's Presidency has any negative aspects makes me want to puke. How the fuck did you ever claim to be a Bidem supporter what that kind of sick attitude? Why don't you crawl back in your hole and leave the real believers alone?!?

    2. Begin list of positive aspects of Biden's Presidency:

      End List of positive aspects of Biden's Presidency.

    3. Well done sir. Still waiting on a mea culpa from reason. But hey, no more mean tweets.

    4. Libertarians for Biden, lol. Is that like Bolsheviks for the Czar? Patriots for Kim Jong-Il? Atheists for the Pope?

  2. Sohn is a lesbian, that's all that matters.

    1. -10 points for wrong skin color.

    2. And Granholm is straight, but she has a lesbian haircut, so it still counts.

  3. I would read the article before commenting, but it's still downloading the pictures, since we don't have Net Neutrality.

    1. 14.4 modems are now mandatory.

      1. 28.8 for democrats - - - - - - - -

        1. 300 baud acoustics for Republicans.

        2. Oh, and 1 gig Chinese made routers for Libertarians, but only 200mbps is usable, the other 800 is "dedicated customer service monitoring bandwidth".

      2. Shotgun them to get 28.8!

        Gawd, I'm old enough to remember when that was an option...

        Also, if government had been in charge of the Intarwebs back in the 90s, we would all be connecting via ISDN.

        1. I remember using a 1200 baud connection in the early 1980s, and how much more work I got done in evenings than having no connection. The funniest part was using an editor which saved all keystrokes since the last save, so when the connection dropped, you could reconnect and replay those keystrokes. Something like 90% of keystrokes were arrows wandering around the text, and the replay (at 1200 baud) was actually useful, helping to refresh my memory of what I'd been thinking.

          1. My high school had (I kid you not) a 10-character-per-second modem when we started our first computer club. It was connected to a university in the next county, as were other schools in the area. We had online (text based) games like Oregon Trail, Star Trek, and Tank War (printing out on a roll of yellow paper) and could play against kids in the other schools.

            When we upgraded to 90 characters per second and an Apple II, it was like we had invented time travel. We could finish off students at other schools before they even knew they were eliminated.

            1. Ye gods. And I thought the 150 baud acoustic coupler modem my father had left over from when I was a wee lad in the late 70's was a slow piece of kit.

          2. My first modem was the 1200 modem that came with a free copy of Prodigy. Or was it the modem came with Prodigy?

            Anyway, back in college we had used acoustic couplers. Did you see those students from Hammerfell? They have acoustic couplers. Acoustic. Couplers.

            1. Had an interesting Datapoint modem with 2400 baud send and 10 baud receive, but you could configure each slower. We also had data phones where you could pull up the hooks for listen-only; it almost seemed you could understand 1 (one!) baud like Morse code with a little practice.

      3. Does that mean I'll have to go back to having a landline?

        The way Federal mandates get structured, they'll require everyone get broadband/VOIP service to run their modem through but forbid any data other than Netflix, Prime, and Apple+ streaming services (since they all donate enough to the DNC to get such consideration).

        1. unless they try to spread misinformation

      4. No one needs a high-capacity modem to browse Twitter. Ban assault routers

  4. Gigi Sohn predicted a bleak future for web users in which most of us would be relegated to a slower experience while a few powerful online firms had access to the speediest connections.

    Like most progressives, she believes her prediction was right, it was the future that was wrong.

    1. Amen! Wish I could have said it so clearly. Thank you.

    2. The great thing about predictions of doom is they are never wrong, they just haven't come to pass *yet*

      1. Like those prophets who keep changing the date of the apocalypse

        1. It’s a great business model.
          You’re also named after one of my favorite twilight zone episodes.

        2. It's really weird hanging out here since we've all been dead since before I was born, due to the ice age.

    3. The part of it where we'd have a handful of giant corporations with monopoly power censoring what can and can't be said online has played out.

      Those companies were all pushing the "Neutrality" scheme back in 2017 though, also by an amazing coincidence, the draconian regulation didn't apply to the portion of internet use that they're involved in, only the portion that they (and their "customers") pay for access to.

      1. Not only has that part played out, it's pretty insidious, well beyond obvious twitters.

        Ever try to find anything with a search engine? It used to be you'd be directed to a wide array of sources, including lots of regular blogs by normal people. Now, the first 3 pages are all either obviously ads or astroturfing by fake blogs who "review" products with affiliate links to Amazon, which are of course ads but not explicit.

        Anything else is what is preferred by the powers that be (Alphabet, Meta, etc) which is pretty obviously curated. The meta engines may be different, but are nearly as bad on everything except privacy.

        1. Try a better search engine (duck duck go?) , but yes, once you control how the information is found, you can rewrite history by ensuring nobody ever sees the truth.
          Google dropped it's Don't Be Evil motto for a reason, these really are vile people.

          1. Duck duck go is a meta engine. It gets its results from other engines as much as itself.

            Also, it is very easily manipulable by the astroturfing methods Amazon uses. Though since it doesn't personalize searches it does give less of a filter bubble type of result.

            I use it, but it isn't "better" objectively. Just not Google, which I despise dealing with in any way so that's enough to use DDG right there, just for privacy. But from a standpoint of buried information and bias toward the biggest internet silos it still has all of the problems.

            1. *facepalm*

              I'd almost managed to extricate myself from using Google services. And then I got a job as a sysadmin for a company that uses Google Workspace.


  5. Those regulations do, in fact, have a point. And they are critical regulations, vital to the national interests.
    They will enable democrats to create, fund, and staff with the faithful, yet another federal agency dedicated to the destruction of America.
    Fascism at its finest.

    1. Well, that's sort of the icing. The real value is forcing the companies to hire those same Democrats for senior positions when they're not in power.

  6. Democrats support net neutrality for the same reason Republicans oppose needle exchanges: it’s what they do. Just like the frog and the scorpion.

    1. Needle exchanges? Doesn't sound American to me, Bob!

    2. At least opposing needle exchanges is consistent with supporting the war on drugs. Net neutrality has been proven to be unnecessary, and has no connection to any other policy (other than statism for the sake of statism).

      1. At least opposing needle exchanges is consistent with supporting the war against hobgoblins under the bed.

      2. At least opposing needle exchanges is consistent with supporting the war on drugs.

        Agree to disagree.

    3. Why should anyone support government funded needle dispersion? Plenty of leftist groups can fund it if they want.

    4. There’s no legit reason to oppose government funded drug use?

    5. I’m guessing the frog is more opposed to needles than the scorpion.

  7. Capitalists are so greedy for profits that they ignore market realities and what customers want, in exchange for .... what?

    Let's rephrase that in a context where it holds true: Statists are so hungry for power that they ignore reality.

    I honestly cannot put myself in their shoes. I can try to pretend to have Hitler's mindset of hating Jews for their backstabbing superiority and Slavs for their servile inferiority and wanting all that land for pure Aryans. I can try to pretend to have Stalin's mindset, or Mao's. But I simply cannot understand what motivates clowns like this. They are literally insane in my estimation. They stick to policies which were predicted to fail by others, and which have failed their own predictions. I simply cannot understand them.

    1. They want to rule over other people. That is all. And if you're on an FCC board, that means net neutrality, making up rules for eebil companies to follow.

      They're simply Karens who managed to get into positions of power.

      And no, I don't know how Karens think. But I do blame their parents for not disciplining them as kids.

      1. That's my point -- I can understand Hitler, Stalin, Mao wanting power as a means to an incomprehensible evil end. I simply cannot understand wanting power for the sake of implementing policies which do nothing except show off the power to ... implement net neutrality? There is no bribery potential. It's too petty to be admired at DC cocktail parties. You may as well be the bureaucrat who defines shoe lace tying policies.

        1. Don’t overthink it. It’s a job for someone of job age. A bit of security nibbled off the public tit.

  8. I remember when the freakout was that overturning Net Neutrality was going to kill the internet. People all across the internet were going nuts. And then it was overturned and the internet has chugged on just fine, and I'm not seeing tons of "Turns out I was wrong, sorry," stories populating the interwebs.

    It's important to call out people at every point when they talk out their ass. They didn't know what they were talking about, they still don't know what they're talking about. Make fun of them for being empty suits and pointless diversity hires.

  9. "Those 'fast lanes' will put those who won't or cannot pay in the slow lane," Sohn told CNN in 2018.

    I wonder how she feels about freeways and bicycles.

    1. And toll roads.

      1. And flying first class.

        1. I bet she's not even aware of anything less than government-paid first class.

  10. If only we could have seen this sort of appointment coming before the election and written an article about it.

    1. That would require Wric to have fucking principles.

  11. all of his appointments have been flat out stalinists. I'm surprised he hasn't pulled his punches on these to be honest but they are all full bore stalinists. It's amazing

    1. makes more sense when you realize Biden probably doesn't even know who most of these people are, and its the sith lords behind the scenes pulling the strings

      1. Joe's a centrist by comparison but only because the DNC has gone totally over the hard-left cliff. And he's all too happy to play ball if he gets a spot on the team, however symbolic

        1. None of the stuff his administration is doing has ever been a part of Biden's belief system in the past.

          He clearly is nothing more than a speech reader. If you doubt it, just look at all the times that he speaks extemporaneously and is wildly at odds with the positions of his own administration. They frequently have to walk back or explain away things he says, because he is at odds with his own policy.

    2. Leftists won't even admit 2+2=4, they'll never acknowledge being wrong

      1. "Hands up, don't shoot" forever.

  12. "I am very concerned that broadband, an essential service, has been without any oversight for four years," she told members of the Senate

    "And don't even get me started about the lack of oversight on Chinese and Russian anti-satellite weapons!"

  13. that dude's glasses don't match his suit

  14. Never underestimate the Democrat’s ability to introduce regulation in search of a problem.

  15. "since Comcast and other large Internet providers are not currently restricting specific types of Web content"

    yes, only social media companies are allowed to do that

    in the public interest, of course

    like with Hunter's laptop

  16. There's no point to these regs for the public, but they're useful for the apparatchiki, who always want as many pretexts for interfering in business decisions as they can get.


    1. Good point, jcr.


    2. Very much this.

  17. How can you be so kind to these people? This isn't some academic debate about what dark matter is made of, or whether linguistic syntax is always binary. These are evil monsters who want to send actual plate-armored stormtroopers to destroy people running honest businesses because honest business angers them, because they are evil. These people cannot reason, and if they could, they wouldn't care to anyway. They are making credible threats of overwhelming violence, and the best we can do is debate them?

  18. Trying to remember, wasn't there something about forcing companies to carry content violates their free speech?

  19. The reason you are confused is because everyone is lying about the issues here.

    "Net neutrality" was never about consumer rights. It was about Netflix... And later Google, Facebook, et. al. But really, Netflix.

    Because at the time, Netflix was rapidly growing and quickly went from a nuisance to well over half of all traffic on the internet. And in a lot of neighborhoods, that video traffic was eating the entire backhaul. On cell phone data networks, just a couple of phones could eat up an entire tower.

    That is why networks were searching for another answer. Charge Netflix more was a big one. They got cheap access from a backbone provider at a colocation site. And they saturated the last mile everywhere else.

    Without net neutrality as a law, the cell phone carriers started recompressing video from services like Netflix and YouTube. I think MetroPCS was at the forefront of this. This saved them huge amounts of data on their network, allowing better service to more people.

    Soon the carriers worked out agreements with companies like Netflix to compress the data for them and they actually bundled video service with the cell phone service.

    That has evolved to where I get HBO Max with my internet service.

    This would be illegal under net neutrality.

    So would altering video footage by recompressing it. And so would prioritizing 720i traffic over 4k traffic.

    Why do you suppose Obama got $60 million from Netflix the minute he left office? It was because he made their grift top priority.

    The politicians are playing them to get more power over the most valuable piece of infrastructure in the world, and the big tech companies are playing the politicians to get a leg up.

  20. Funny that they are worried about big evil megacorporations controlling what you can and cannot access, for profit. But those same folks WANT big evil megacorporations to control what you can and cannot access for political power and control.

  21. Gigi Sohn, Biden's Pick for FCC Vacancy, Is Still Pushing Pointless 'Net Neutrality' Regulations

    Now do Section 230.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.