Policy

Comcast hires former Sinema colleague to lobby on ‘FCC nominations’

And it just so happens Sinema seems to hold Gigi Sohn’s fate in her hands.

U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema

Sinema may decide whether longtime net-neutrality advocate Gigi Sohn joins the FCC.

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema may be the key vote in deciding if longtime net-neutrality advocate Gigi Sohn gets confirmed to join the Federal Communications Commission — so perhaps that’s why Comcast hired a former colleague of Sinema’s to lobby on “FCC nominations.”

The internet provider, which has long opposed the net-neutrality rules that Sohn helped design during the Obama administration, hired Kirk Adams to work on the White House’s picks for the agency, according to recent disclosures filed with Congress. While the documentation didn’t name any nominees, Sohn is the only one pending.

The filings don’t say if Adams’ role is to try to sway Sinema specifically, although she appears to be the main Democratic wildcard on Sohn’s nomination. A revised disclosure, filed about 11 hours after the first, instead described his assignment only as “telecommunications policy” — a vague description typical of companies’ efforts to avoid detailing their strategies.

Still, companies often hire lobbyists for their prior relationships and expertise, and Adams appears to have both: He served alongside Sinema during her tenure in the Arizona House of Representatives. Adams, a Republican, even spent part of that time as the body’s speaker, before becoming chief of staff to state Gov. Doug Ducey for nearly four years beginning in 2015. In 2019 and 2020, Adams also worked as a federal lobbyist whose only client was USTelecom, the industry’s main trade group, and whose only disclosed focus was net neutrality. According to the disclosures, some which were filed belatedly, Adams only ever contacted the Senate — not the House or the FCC itself.

Neither Sinema’s office nor a representative for Adams responded to Protocol’s requests for comment on the nature of his work or any talks between them. Comcast, which praised Sohn’s “tireless advocacy on the critical issue of connecting all Americans to broadband” when she was nominated, also declined to comment on its lobbying.

In 2019, Senate Democrats — aside from Sinema — opposed the FCC’s moves to repeal its net-neutrality rules, which sought to stop ISPs from blocking web content, slowing it down or demanding pay for prioritizing it. Sinema, who is known for crossing party lines, said at the time that the Democrats’ plan could have had unintended consequences, and she has suggested that Congress should solve the issue rather than handing it off to an agency. During the battle, pro-net neutrality activists even took out a billboard calling Sinema “corrupt.”

Sinema’s prior stance, together with her well-known willingness to buck the White House and her Democratic colleagues, means her vote for Sohn, who spent years advocating for net-neutrality rules and helped write them as a staffer in the Obama-era FCC, is not guaranteed.

Sohn is already facing deep skepticism from Senate Republicans, not only over her net-neutrality work but also over her comments on conservative media and her position on the board of a free, over-the-air streaming service that recently shut down following a lawsuit. GOP lawmakers also have the opportunity to delay the Biden tech agenda if they can stop nominees for the FCC and Federal Trade Commission.

If no Republican lawmakers vote for Sohn, she’ll need support from every Democrat for confirmation — hence the focus on Sinema, now that other senators from the party who had doubts about Sohn seem to have fallen in line. Sinema also sits on the Commerce Committee, which oversees FCC picks, meaning the senator’s vote could be needed even to advance Sohn’s nomination to the floor.

The issue may soon come to a head. A committee spokeswoman, Tricia Enright, said the panel is “expecting” to hold a hearing to move forward nominations, including Sohn’s, during the week of Jan. 24.

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