Speaker Spotlight! Mignon Clyburn, FCC Comissioner

Presenting Mignon Clyburn, a prominent FCC commissioner committed to closing the digital divide, advocating for consumers, and preserving a free and open internet. Clyburn has been the most important advocate for net neutrality in the Federal Communications Commission for the past eight years. As the daughter of prominent South Carolina Democrat Jim Clyburn, Mignon has always been surrounded by politics, however, she followed her own path during and beyond college. Although her father is an important figure in the political community, Mignon has always been committed to staying true to her own values and has always placed the highest importance on favoring the public’s interest. She attended the University of Southern California and graduated with a Bachelors in Banking, Finance, and Economics. After graduating college, Clyburn became the publisher and general manager of a family founded newspaper called The Coastal Times which focused on issues affecting the African American community.  She remained there for the fourteen years following her college graduation. After her time at the newspaper, Clyburn transitioned into a more politically charged environment. She spent the next eleven years as a member of the South Carolina Public Service Commission representing South Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District.

Following Clyburn’s time at the Public Service Commission of South Carolina, she was nominated by President Barack Obama and the U.S. Senate to the position of commissioner on the FCC.  Mignon was sworn in for her first term on August 3rd, 2009 and was then nominated again for another five-year term in 2013. During her second term, she was appointed by President Obama as acting FCC chairwoman. During her time at the FCC and especially during her time as acting chairwoman, Clyburn was especially committed to closing the digital divide by reducing economic and social inequality regarding the access of information and communication technologies, to initiating inmate calling services reform. Mignon’s work to close the digital divide has been ongoing and arduous. She has been an advocate for modernizing the Lifeline program which assists low-income consumers defray the costs of broadband services. This is an issue that affects 10% of Americans each year and needs to be addressed.  Mignon is also an advocate for reducing the cost of outbound calls for inmates which can reach upwards of $20 for a 15-minute local phone call. Clyburn lobbied to cap these phone calls at 25 cents per minute so that phone calls lasting 15 minutes would not reach over $3.75.  This was a huge step for reforming prison phone calls. Clyburn made sure this decision reflected her values of putting the people first. 2.7 million children have a parent in prison and studies show that communications between inmates and their families help reduce the likelihood that the inmates will return to prison in the future. Not only does this reform help prisoners financially, it also helps reduce crime in general.

All of these incredible accomplishments fall under her overarching goal of preserving net neutrality. During her time as chairwoman, Clyburn was able to pass the strictest net neutrality regulations to date which prevented internet providers from charging more for certain content or giving preferential treatment to certain websites. She advocated for pro-competition and pro-consumer behavior in areas such as the unlocking of smartphones, along with closing the digital divide and capping the per-minute rates on those phone calls. As a champion for a free and open internet, she believes that competition is essential for the internet to survive and thrive. Broadband regulators need to find a way to regulate appropriately so that prices do not get too high and resources are not depleted. It is imperative to promote investments from companies of all sizes and of course, to protect consumers.

Clyburn’s term ended last June and she has since decided to step down.  Since the new chairman has been appointed, much of Commissioner Clyburn’s hard work to protect net neutrality has been reversed. Many of the laws she enacted have recently been repealed including her inmate calling reform and the open internet order which were a set of regulations that moved towards the internet neutrality concept, effectively killing net neutrality. But she is not giving up.  Without net neutrality, historical movements such as #metoo would not have reached so many people, we would not so quickly be able to hear about the miracles that happen around the world or for that matter, the increasing amount of tragedies.

During her time on the FCC, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn considered how any proceeding would affect each and every American. She has been described by Senator Ed Markey as “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.”  Jessica Rosenworcel, another Democrat on the FCC stated that Clyburn has been a “forceful advocate for change, for equal opportunity, and for closing the digital divide. It has been an honor to work alongside her to put consumers first and to bring connectivity to those at the greatest risk of being left behind– urban, rural and everywhere in between.” Clyburn has also been named an honoree of Women’s History Month by the National Women’s History Project in 2009. She has played such an instrumental and recognizable role in advocating for a free and open internet over the last few years and we are so excited to hear about the importance of net neutrality and what we can do to bring it back from Mignon Clyburn at the NYC Ascent Conference this October 3-4.


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