Distinguished Fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy
Industry: Academia, Technology
Key previous position: Counsel to FCC chairman
Education: Boston U, Penn Law
Notable fact: Mets/Jets/Caps/Mystics fan
Throughout her 30 years in telecommunications and technology policy, Gigi Sohn has worn many hats—a telecom lawyer, a progressive advocate, a top aide at the Federal Communications Commission, an academic.
But if there’s one thread uniting the career of a woman widely viewed as the godmother of progressive tech policy in Washington, it’s her ability to bridge the vast chasms between industry, the advocacy community, and the federal government. “I spend a lot of time building bridges between industry and public interests—and also between the public-interest groups themselves,” Sohn said.
It’s a role she’s played since she founded progressive tech-policy group Public Knowledge in 2001. It’s one reason she was hired in 2013 by Democratic FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler; she worked tirelessly to assure net-neutrality activists that Wheeler—a former telecom lobbyist—had their best interests at heart.
Today, it’s the part she plays even as she watches much of what she accomplished during her stint in government be undone by a Republican FCC. “It is a major bummer to see everything you worked on get unraveled,” Sohn said, lamenting the recent rollback of the previous commission’s net-neutrality and broadband-privacy rules.
That disappointment hasn’t translated into anger. While unapologetically liberal, Sohn may be the only high-profile progressive who’s still admired—even liked—by many in the conservative and tech-industry communities.
“I do not come at this from a position that the companies are inherently evil. They aren’t,” Sohn said, stressing a desire to seek common ground even when it’s hard to find.
But she isn’t afraid to fight when needed. And even from her perch outside government, her powerful media megaphone and relationships across Washington have contributed to some substantial wins, including the defeat of the Sinclair-Tribune merger and the passage of California’s net-neutrality law.
“We’ve had more victories than one might expect in this environment,” she said.
That’s not to say Sohn is content to languish in the wilderness of the Trump era. If Democrats take over in 2020, she hopes to be back behind a government desk in a heartbeat.
“As much as I love being a public-interest advocate, the best job I ever had was at the FCC,” she said. “If there’s an opportunity for me to return, I’ll be there. Absolutely.”