Democrat Mignon Clyburn is leaving the Federal Communications Commission after nine years of service. As part of the FCC’s Democratic majority from 2009 through 2016, Clyburn repeatedly voted for consumer-protection regulations over the objections of Internet service providers. More recently, Clyburn has been on the losing end of many votes as the FCC’s new Republican majority deregulates the broadband and telecom industries.
Clyburn’s term expired in June 2017, but commission rules allowed her to stay until the end of 2018 if she had chosen to do so. Rather than seek a new five-year term, she announced that today’s FCC meeting would be her last.
Being an FCC commissioner has been “the most incredible opportunity for me,” Clyburn said at the meeting. “In my wildest dreams, if I could have crafted my destiny, I never would have dreamed of this.”
Clyburn served as the FCC’s interim chair for six months in 2013 before giving way to Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler, who frequently called Clyburn “the conscience of the commission.”
“One of the best of all time”
“Mignon Clyburn will go down in history as one of the best FCC commissioners of all time,” former FCC official and consumer advocate Gigi Sohn said today. “For nearly nine years, she has been a vocal and passionate advocate for the public interest and defender of the most vulnerable in our society.”
Clyburn advocated for expansions of the Lifeline program that helps low-income Americans buy telephone and broadband service, Sohn noted. Clyburn has also been a leader on lowering prison phone rates and the issues of media ownership and net neutrality, Sohn said.
“Mignon is a voice for the voiceless, always defending the most vulnerable in our society to ensure they are protected against the special interests,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said today. “Her commitment to defending net neutrality, protecting the Lifeline program, lowering prison phone rates, and so many other critical consumer-protection programs has benefited millions of American families.”
Clyburn previously spent 11 years on the South Carolina Public Service Commission (PSC), including two years as chair. “Prior to her service on the PSC, Clyburn was the publisher and general manager of , a Charleston-based weekly newspaper that focused primarily on issues affecting the African-American community,” her bio on the FCC website says. “She co-owned and operated the family-founded newspaper for 14 years.” Clyburn is the daughter of US Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), who has been in Congress since 1993.
“Throughout her tenure, we knew that someone inside the FCC was listening to poor people and people of color and advocating for our communications rights,” said Jessica González, deputy director and senior counsel at consumer-advocacy group Free Press.
Clashes with Pai over net neutrality
Clyburn bitterly dissented when Republican Chairman Ajit Pai led recent votes to eliminate net neutrality rules and other regulations that she voted to implement during the Obama administration. She also detailed her concerns about the net neutrality repeal in an interview with Ars last year. But today, all commissioners, including Pai, lauded Clyburn for her service.
Clyburn had a “distinguished tenure at the FCC” and has been “a wonderful colleague and friend,” Pai said.
“She has been a tremendous leader and a committed public servant throughout her time here,” Pai said. “As the first woman to head the agency, she led skillfully through a transition and put her stamp on the commission, including through her steadfast leadership in tele-health, media diversity, and digital inclusion. I have enjoyed working with her and, even when we have not seen eye-to-eye on policy, I have always held her candor and thoughtfulness in the highest regard.”
Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called Clyburn a “dynamo” who worked “to put consumers first and bring connectivity to those at greatest risk of being left behind—urban, rural, and everywhere in between.”
“I am proud to have worked together with her to support net neutrality and grateful to have been her partner in her unwavering work to remedy the grave injustice of exorbitant prison phone rates,” Rosenworcel said.
Democrat will fill empty seat
Rosenworcel will be the lone Democrat on the commission after Clyburn’s departure. There are three Republicans. President Trump and the Senate will be responsible for filling the Democratic seat to restore the 3-2 split.
The president nominates all commissioners. If past practice is followed, he would appoint a Democrat upon the recommendation of the Senate’s Democratic leadership. The Senate would then vote to confirm the new commissioner.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has decided to recommend the nomination of FCC official Geoffrey Starks, an assistant chief in the agency’s enforcement bureau, reported last month.
By rule, the president’s party maintains a one-vote majority on the FCC, so Republicans will keep the majority until Democrats re-take the White House.
Clyburn has not announced her post-commission plans.