Equity & Diversity

Democratic FCC Commissioner, Advocate For Net Neutrality and Lifeline, Resigns

By Sarah Schwartz — April 17, 2018 2 min read
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Mignon Clyburn, one of five commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission and a persistent advocate for net neutrality and the federal Lifeline program, announced her plans to step down from the commission today.

Clyburn was appointed to the FCC in 2009 by President Obama and is serving her second term as a commissioner. In 2013, she served as the acting chair of the agency, the first woman to hold the position. Currently, she is one of two Democrats on the commision.

Clyburn has vocally opposed the agency’s efforts to repeal net neutrality—regulations preventing internet service providers from prioritizing certain websites, or charging content providers for faster delivery speeds—under Republican chairman Ajit Pai.

After the commission’s party-line vote to repeal net neutrality protections in December of last year, Clyburn issued a statement in which she condemned the “fiercely-spun, legally-lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate enabling” decision.

Clyburn also pushed for the modernization of the Lifeline program, a telecommunications subsidy for low-income families. Updates to the program in 2016 allowed recipients to use the monthly subsidy to cover stand-alone broadband access, as well as bundled phone and internet services.

Civil rights and education groups have said that the change was an important step toward closing the “homework gap”—the academic disadvantage faced by children are unable to complete online homework due to inadequate internet access.

In 2014, Clyburn was one of the commissioners who voted to modernize the federal E-Rate program, which provides funding for improvements to school and library telecommunications services. The modernization order, approved on a party-line vote under former Democratic FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, raised the annual spending cap on the program from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion and prioritized high-speed broadband access.

After Clyburn’s announcement today, Jessica Rosenworcel, the other Democratic member of the commission, issued a statement:

“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 rememdy 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.”

Pai also released a statement, congratulating her on her service at the agency. “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,” he said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.