Public Knowledge president joins FCC

Gigi Sohn, the president and co-founder of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, will resign to become a senior aide to Tom Wheeler, who was sworn in as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Monday.

Sohn, who has led Public Knowledge since 2001, will be the FCC's special counsel for external affairs. 

Public Knowledge Vice President Michael Weinberg and Chief Operating Officer Brooke Hunter will serve as acting co-presidents of the organization.

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Sohn is a fierce advocate for aggressive regulations of telecom and broadband providers. She criticized former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski for not enacting tougher net neutrality rules, which restrict the ability of Internet providers to discriminate against websites.

She has also urged the FCC to investigate the use of data caps and has called for tougher enforcement of antitrust laws.

She broke with other public interest groups such as Free Press and the New America Foundation in endorsing Wheeler for FCC chairman. 

The other groups worried that Wheeler, a longtime lobbyist for the wireless and cable industries, will side with corporations over consumers.

But Sohn, who has known Wheeler for years, came to his defense, saying he would be an "independent proactive chairman."

“I have no doubt that we will disagree with Tom at times. But I also have no doubt that Tom will have an open door and an open mind, and that ultimately his decisions will be based on what he genuinely believes is best for the public interest, not any particular industry," Sohn said in a statement after Obama named him as FCC chairman. 

She said Monday that she leaves Public Knowledge with a "mixture of sadness and great pride."

"In late 2001, I started the organization with a tiny budget and free office space in Dupont Circle. Now Public Knowledge has 17 full time employees and more importantly, has a reputation as an effective, thoughtful and pragmatic communications and technology policy advocacy organization," she said. 

Wheeler also announced a number of other senior staff appointments Monday.

Ruth Milkman, the head of the FCC's Wireless Bureau, will be Wheeler's chief of staff. 

Philip Verveer, who served as the U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy at the State Department, will be senior counselor for the chairman.

Diane Cornell, who has worked for Inmarsat, CTIA-the Wireless Association and at the FCC, will be a special counsel.

The legal advisers for Wheeler will be Daniel Alvarez, who has worked in private practice since 2005; Renee Gregory, who has been with the FCC since last year; and Maria Kirby, who has been working in the agency's Wireless Bureau.

Roger Sherman, a former Democratic aide on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will serve as the acting chief of the Wireless Bureau. 

Michael O'Rielly, a Republican who was confirmed as an FCC commissioner last week along with Wheeler, was also sworn into office on Monday.