Net neutrality, industry consolidation, minority media ownership, and inmate calling reform are among the issues that will be at the heart of whatever outgoing FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn does after her time at the Commission ends tomorrow, she said this afternoon during a Voices for Internet Freedom event.
More than 50 years since the release of the Kerner Commission report about the 1967 riots, there is still much work to be done to secure progress on many societal problems, including those directly related to telecommunications and media, she said.
But, she added, "I am an eternal optimist. I believe there are simple fixes."
In today's world, a major issue is that divisions between people with access to communications and without are getting wider, she said. "They're becoming canyons," Ms. Clyburn said.
The commissioner bemoaned the "abysmal" level of minority ownership of media properties, such as TV and radio stations.
"If you do not own, there is a high probability you will not hire from [minority] communities," she said.
Ownership of media outlets is "the gateway to being inclusive when it comes to news and information and the dissemination of information, or not," she said.
There should also be more effort put into examining minority ownership and how current public policies affect it, she said.
"Nothing's going to change if you don't acknowledge the problem," Ms. Clyburn said.
Because the "hurdle is way to too high" for minorities to acquire radio and TV stations, it is critically important that net-neutrality rules be in place to ensure minority voices are heard, she said.
The FCC's decision last year to rescind its net-neutrality rules went against years of Internet-related policy decisions designed to protect consumers, Ms. Clyburn said.
"We shifted from a consumer-oriented, consumer-centric approach to an industry-centered view," she said, adding: "We took a shift from consumers first to industry first."
Ms. Clyburn argued that net neutrality rules are necessary because, with many consumers having access to only one Internet service provider, there is not a competitive market.
"If we had three, four, five six Internet service providers, maybe we'd be ok," she said.
In addition, she said, the Trump administration is being "short-sighted" because it is "fixated" on improving telecommunications infrastructure without also paying attention to ensuring all consumers will be able to access it, with the help of programs like the Universal Service Fund.
Focusing on infrastructure without considering the affordability of service is like building "an incredible technological bridge to nowhere," she said.
Ms. Clyburn also continued to push for reform of the "evil framework" for prison calling rates.
"It is preying on the people who can least afford it," she said.
Correctional facilities and law enforcement have been reluctant to change the system because of the amount of revenue it has brought in, Ms. Clyburn argued.
"No one wants to break up that incredible pot of money," she said. "But it is costing our communities. … [But] a simple fix would have an incredible ripple effect."
Ms. Clyburn said she is skeptical that the current FCC "will move an inch" from the status quo and urged advocates of inmate calling reform to urge Congress to make legislative changes.
"I would have thought we would have been done at this point with inmate calling, but we're not," she said.
Ms. Clyburn said she plans to "continue to be a voice for reform" for inmate calling after she leaves the commission.--Jeff Williams
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