Clyburn Departing FCC After More than Eight Years
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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Clyburn Departing FCC After More than Eight Years

FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn announced today that she is departing the agency within the next several weeks, stating that the Commission meeting held today would be her last. The next Commission meeting is scheduled for May 10.

Commissioner Clyburn, who has served on the FCC since 2009, did not announce her future plans, saying that she doesn’t “have a path laid out.”

Her current term expired June 30, 2017, but the Communications Act allows FCC Commissioners to continue to serve until the end of the congressional session following the one in which their term expires, or until a successor is confirmed, whichever comes first. Rumors have circulated for some time that she will seek the congressional seat of her father, House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D., S.C.), when and if the 77-year-old lawmaker retires.

Commissioner Clyburn served as the FCC’s acting Chairwoman for six months in 2013, between the departure of Chairman Julius Genachowski and the confirmation of Chairman Tom Wheeler. She was the first woman to lead the agency. Before joining the FCC, she was a member of the South Carolina Public Service Commission for 11 years and before that was the publisher of the “Coastal Times,” a family-owned newspaper in Charleston.

Her slightly tearful remarks about her experiences at the agency were met by a standing ovation from those present at today’s meeting, including the other Commissioners, who seemed taken by surprise by the announcement. Commissioner Brendan Carr noted that he had not planned to make remarks during the time normally set aside for Commissioner announcements, but “now” would be. Commissioner Clyburn said that she had not even told her parents ahead of time that she would be making the announcement, so she would be “in trouble” with them.

While Commissioner Clyburn has worked with her Republican colleagues at the agency on many issues – including the six unanimous items adopted today – she also has clashed at times on both substantive and procedural matters, the latter including when items should be considered by the full Commission rather than being delegated to staff. Just yesterday, for example, she lodged such a process complaint concerning a rural call completion consent decree with T-Mobile US, Inc. (TR Daily, April 16).

Last month, sources confirmed to TR Daily that Congressional Black Caucus members are backing FCC Enforcement Bureau Assistant Chief Geoffrey Starks for the seat on the Commission that Ms. Clyburn is vacating (TR Daily, March 9).

Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee ranking minority member Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) is backing the committee’s senior minority counsel, John Branscome, a former FCC staffer, for the Democratic seat on the FCC.

Traditionally, the White House takes recommendations from the congressional leadership of the opposing party for minority seats on the Commission. At the moment, however, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Sen. Nelson are at an impasse, with Sen. Schumer favoring Mr. Starks as the recommended nominee, one source said.

Commissioner Clyburn’s announcement was greeted with an outpouring of statements thanking her for her work at the agency, especially on consumer issues ranging from net neutrality and universal service to inmate calling services.

At the meeting, Commissioner Mike O’Rielly said, “I want to say thank you for your service to the American people. I know we haven’t always agreed on every issue, but we’ve worked together on many projects.” He added, “I’m going to miss you.”

In a written statement, he said, “I am saddened to hear my friend and colleague, Commissioner Clyburn, announce her intention to leave the Commission in the very near future. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her on several projects and her commitment to her principles always impressed me. Even when we disagreed, we found a way to work through it and get to the next issue. Suffice it to say, Commissioner Clyburn epitomizes the term ‘public servant.’ I wish her well in her next endeavor, whatever it may be.”

In her written statement, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who will be the agency’s only Democratic Commissioner after Ms. Clyburn’s departure, said, “Commissioner Clyburn has been a forceful advocate for change, for equal opportunity, and for closing the digital divide. It was a privilege to support her history-making leadership as acting Chairwoman. It has been an honor to work alongside her 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. As she departs this agency, she should know her legacy is intact because so many who work on communications policy will continue to be guided by her outstanding example. I consider myself among them.

“In short, Commissioner Clyburn is a dynamo. She represents the best of public service. I am proud to call her both a colleague and a friend,” Commissioner Rosenworcel added.

Commissioner Carr said in a written statement, “Commissioner Clyburn has been a strong and dynamic member of the Commission. I would like to thank Commissioner Clyburn for her many years of dedicated service to the FCC. In my time as a Commissioner, I have been consistently struck by her passion and commitment to the work of the FCC, her professionalism, and her willingness to reach across the aisle to get things done. It has been a privilege to serve with her, and I wish her all the best on her future endeavors.” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “I congratulate Commissioner Clyburn on her distinguished tenure at the FCC. She has been a tremendous leader and a committed public servant throughout her time here. 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 telehealth, 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. She’s been a wonderful colleague and friend. I wish her nothing but the best and sincerely thank her for her service.”

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D., Mass.) said, “Commissioner Clyburn has served the American people with integrity, distinction, and compassion during her nearly nine years at the Commission, and she will be deeply missed. Mignon is a voice for the voiceless, always defending the most vulnerable in our society to ensure they are protected against the special interests. 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. I thank her for her service, and I wish her the best of success in her next endeavor.”

National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners President John Betkoski II said, “On behalf of NARUC, I want to thank Commissioner Mignon Clyburn for her service. First, as a state regulator as a member of the South Carolina Public Service Commission before her tenure at the FCC. She has always embodied the dedication and integrity that one expects of a public servant. Mignon Clyburn truly knows that serving the public interest requires an unwavering commitment to balancing the needs of all parties.”

He added, “We are grateful for her ardent efforts on many fronts, such as leading efforts related to limiting the costs of inmate telephone calls, expanding the Lifeline Program for Low-Income Consumers to include broadband and adopting the FCC Open Internet Order to protect net neutrality. Her public service leadership roles, which include being the first woman to lead the FCC as Acting Chair, make her a natural role model. Moreover, she has been an active participant in NARUC meetings — willing to engage in frank, collegial dialogues with fervor, intellect and a sense of humor. We wish her all the best.”

Public Knowledge President Gene Kimmelman said, “Mignon Clyburn used her passion for justice and compassion for the underserved to demonstrate the best of what an FCC Commissioner can offer the American people. She set the highest standard of public service and hopefully others will follow in her footsteps to further the public interest.”

Free Press President and Chief Executive Officer Craig Aaron said, “At an agency often captured by the companies it’s supposed to regulate, Clyburn stood out for her focus on the real-world impacts of the FCC’s decisions. While every commissioner attends trade shows, Clyburn made sure to also visit community media centers. She met not just with lobbyists but with grassroots organizers and prisoners’ families. She went not just to Silicon Valley but to Skid Row.”

U.S. Telecom Association President and Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Spalter said, “Commissioner Clyburn is a committed and valued public servant whose passion and energy for ensuring every American has access to connectivity, regardless of circumstance, is unmatched. Commissioner Clyburn has made a lasting impact at the Commission and inspires through her intellect, her integrity and her tremendous energy.”

NCTA President and CEO Michael Powell, a former FCC Chairman who left the agency about four years before Commissioner Clyburn arrived, said, “The American public owes a debt of gratitude to Mignon Clyburn for her eight years of service at the FCC where she forcefully championed the public interest and often served as a voice for under-privileged communities. Commissioner Clyburn has been a strong advocate of the power of technology to close the digital divide and ensure that every American has the opportunity to participate in the digital economy. I would like to personally thank Commissioner Clyburn for her dedication to public service, passion for fighting for the underdog and friendship that we have forged over the years. We wish her all the best in her next chapter.”

CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker, a former FCC Commissioner whose tenure overlapped with Commissioner Clyburn’s, said, “Commissioner Clyburn has served her role at the FCC with distinction and has a deep understanding of how wireless connectivity can empower consumers and provide new opportunities to educators and health care professionals. She has been a steadfast advocate for harnessing the power of wireless to help diverse communities. It was a pleasure to serve with my friend — the first woman to lead the agency — at the Commission and I wish her well on her next steps.”

Joan Marsh, AT&T, Inc.’s executive vice president–regulatory and state external affairs, said, “Since joining the FCC nearly a decade ago, Commissioner Clyburn has demonstrated an abiding and admirable commitment to public service. She leaves a tremendous legacy at the Commission of helping Americans most in need and bringing a voice for those who are often overlooked. We wish her all the best in her new endeavors.”

Kathy Grillo, Verizon Communications, Inc.’s senior vice president and deputy general counsel–public policy and government affairs, said, “Mignon Clyburn will leave an indelible mark on the FCC. In addition to making history by being the first woman to chair the FCC, throughout her tenure Commissioner Clyburn was a passionate and effective advocate for the public interest, with a particular eye towards looking out for those Americans most in need. Among other issues, Commissioner Clyburn showed strong leadership on such issues as strengthening the Lifeline program, reforming prison payphone rates, and addressing the digital divide.”

Ms. Grillo added, “While we did not always agree on every issue, Commissioner Clyburn has always been a professional who was willing to listen, engage and work towards a potential compromise.”

Incompas CEO Chip Pickering said, “Competition and consumers have had no better champion than Commissioner Clyburn. She is a fighter filled with grace, substance and passion, who has truly earned the title of the ‘Consumer Commissioner.’ Her presence on the FCC as a genuine consensus builder will be missed. During her time as interim Chairwoman of the Commission she always strove to move the FCC’s agenda forward with a keen eye toward technology that lifts the boats of all consumers. Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to Commissioner Clyburn for being a true competition hero.”

Wireless Infrastructure Association President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein, another former Commissioner who left the agency just a few months before Commissioner Clyburn’s arrival, said that her “dedication to the idea that all Americans should have broadband access will certainly be missed, as will her willingness to work collaboratively with all sides to find common ground. Commissioner Clyburn is truly committed to providing everyone with a voice in the process. She has been a great friend to me personally and to the wireless infrastructure industry. Together, we worked diligently on implementing the landmark 2014 Infrastructure Order. Her leadership on this issue will leave a lasting impact on the streamlined siting of next generation wireless networks. Although she is leaving the FCC, I know that Commissioner Clyburn will never stop fighting for the causes she is passionate about, namely ensuring that all communities — big or small, rural or urban, rich or poor — are able to reap the benefits of robust and ubiquitous broadband.”

Rob McDowell, chief public policy advisor for Mobile Future and another former Commissioner who served alongside Commissioner Clyburn for about four years, said that while “it has been evident for some time that my friend and former colleague, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, would be leaving the agency at some point, I have dreaded the day that the news would become official. Unfortunately, that day has come. Although I will have more to say later, her service on the FCC should be remembered by her grace, compassion, vision and leadership. America is a better country because Mignon Clyburn not only served on the FCC, but led it. I wish her my deepest personal gratitude and best wishes for what will be a bright future.”

Claude Aiken, president and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association and until recently Commissioner Clyburn’s wireline legal adviser, said, “Commissioner Clyburn has been a tireless advocate for all consumers, especially the voiceless. She has made immeasurable contributions to the issues of affordable broadband, a diverse media landscape, and a robustly competitive communications marketplace. She was accessible, well-informed, and a good listener. During my time at the FCC, Commissioner Clyburn was an amazing boss, and remains a dear friend. WISPA [wishes] her all the best in her new endeavors beyond the FCC: she will be sorely missed.”

The GPS Innovation Alliance, whose new executive director, David Grossman, was Commissioner Clyburn’s chief of staff until recently, said in a statement, “Commissioner Clyburn has served as a tireless defender of the public interest for nearly nine years. The GPS Innovation Alliance congratulates her for her dedicated public service as the first woman to chair the agency, and wishes her well in future endeavors.”

National Association of Broadcasters President and CEO Gordon Smith said, “Mignon Clyburn has served the Commission with distinction, dedication and humility over the past eight years. She has been a passionate voice on behalf of consumers and a champion of diversity in the media marketplace during her tenure. NAB and America’s broadcasters wish Commissioner Clyburn well on her future path.”

Utilities Technology Council President and CEO Joy Ditto said, “On behalf of the Utilities Technology Council, I commend Commissioner Mignon Clyburn for her successful and path-breaking tenure at the Federal Communications Commission. She has been a strong proponent of the need for energy and water providers to have access to interference-free spectrum. She understands the interdependencies between the energy and telecommunications industries, particularly as rural utilities provide critical, economy boosting broadband services to areas unserved and underserved by traditional telecommunications companies. I congratulate her for a race well run and wish her the best in her future endeavors.”

Other parties issuing statements of congratulation and praise included the National Hispanic Media Coalition, CenturyLink, Inc., the American Cable Association, the Competitive Carriers Association, and the Wireless Innovation Alliance. —Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com

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