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Blog Posts by Mignon Clyburn

Broadband Comes to Harlem

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
October 8, 2010

Taking part in last Friday’s “Broadband Comes to Harlem” was a great pleasure for me. The open event felt much like a town hall exchange with seniors, students, politicians, policy makers and anyone wanting to learn more about broadband availability and how it can improve their lives. I had the honor of meeting Florence M. Rice, the host of the event and the founder of the Harlem Consumer Education Council (HCEC). At 91 years of age, Ms. Rice is just as active and committed as ever in her quest to keep Harlem’s citizens informed and empowered.

I shared with those gathered my experiences with my Grandmother in rural Berkeley County, South Carolina, and how the “protocols” of the past had the potential to perpetually stifle one’s ambitions. Affordable and available high-speed internet can and will take any granddaughter beyond the structural limits of those “unpaved roads”, and has the capacity to boost the confidence and abilities of an entire household.

The adoption numbers affirm that seniors in America are just learning the benefits and joys of being online, through word of mouth or from peering over the shoulders of their children and grandchildren as they type away and share memories, pictures and a host of experiences. They are re-discovering old friends and making new ones. They are realizing that fascinating information is just a click away, and that access to hobbies and places to visit await them. They are saving time and money by purchasing goods and services online and spending less on transportation by accessing essential government information and services with these technologies.

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Cable Diversity Week highlight of Big Apple Tour

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
September 16, 2010

I just spent 2.5 days in New York City focusing on cable TV as the industry celebrated Diversity Week. I had the pleasure of meeting with the Board of the National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Cable - NAMIC, a 30-year old organization that promotes diversity in the cable industry by emphasizing diversity as a business strategy with their focus on programming, marketing, operations, technology, and leadership. They also provide training, awards, grants, mentoring, and guidance and networking opportunities.

Early Tuesday morning, I attended NAMIC's breakfast meeting where this year's Most Influential Minorities in Cable were recognized. I also learned about NAMIC's Executive Leadership Development Program from a most successful panel of graduates, and heard from several second generation NAMIC Board members who are carrying on their parents' tradition in the cable industry by working to increase opportunities for minorities and women in the creation, distribution, and marketing of cable programming. I was honored to present the keynote address at the morning session during the 24th Annual Conference entitled 3D: Diversity, Digital, Demographics.

An hour later, I had the opportunity to join an impressive group of women on a panel at the Women in Cable Telecommunications' Conference. Luckily, it was right down the hall from NAMIC. Each of these women is a remarkable leader in her field, and they were all willing to share their personal experiences and tips for success. We shared a wide range of stories from the most heart-breaking to the side-splitting. I think we all learned something about the challenges and rewards of being a woman in industries that had not initially welcomed us as participants, but where we have managed to make inroads to become leaders in our respective fields.

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Importance of Broadband

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
August 26, 2010

Last week, I was in Minneapolis, Minnesota for a public hearing on the “Future of the Internet” sponsored by Free Press, Main Street Project, and the Center for Media Justice. Much already has been written about that event in the mainstream press, so I wanted to share with you the part of my day which has not been featured—my visits with Minnesota Public Radio and the South Minneapolis WorkForce Center. Both of these visits reinforced the ongoing work of the Commission to ensure that every American has access to affordable high-speed Internet service.

Minnesota Public Radio

Located in St. Paul, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) has been at the forefront of serving its community, through local and regional news and music over FM radio, for many years. Several things struck me as I was touring MPR’s impressive studios, soundstage, newsroom, and the Fitzgerald Theatre (home of The Prairie Home Companion). First, by hosting regular public discussions on the issues of the day in the beautiful UBS Forum, the public has the opportunity to be engaged on important matters through interactive dialogue. Citizens can tune in and listen, but they also can actively participate in these sessions. Second, independent voices have the opportunity to be heard and to find an audience—and by this I mean those voices that happen to be accompanied by musical instruments. MPR offers bands whose music would never be featured on most commercial stations a platform for exposure on The Current. Third, by offering local and regional news and actively expanding its news staff, MPR can better serve the public with the information it needs.

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Foreign Diplomacy In D.C.

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
August 2, 2010

I had the pleasure last week of meeting several distinguished international colleagues, beginning on Tuesday morning, with a delegation from the Comisión del Mercado de las Telecomunicaciones (CMT). Members of the Spanish telecommunications regulatory authority met with various U.S. companies and government agencies to learn more about the U.S. telecommunications market, and specifically, the FCC’s regulatory agenda—particularly in the area of broadband deployment, open Internet, next generation networks, and Internet governance. Then on Wednesday afternoon I had a delightful and informative meeting with Emmanuel Gabla, Commissioner for the Conseil Superieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA) and his delegation. Among the many obligations of CSA is the responsibility for implementing France’s digital television transition. The French began the switch to standard definition DTV in 2009 on a regional basis and established a 2011 cutoff for all analog TV broadcasts. In France, several agencies govern different aspects of communications policy. Since Commissioner Gabla has worked at agencies that regulate the wireline, wireless, and now media communications, he was able to educate me on the history of a wide-range of French communications policy. I really appreciate the time that these delegations spent with me this week and would like to recognize the tremendous support of Mindel De La Torre and her staff at the International Bureau for making these exchanges possible.

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My Journey to Alaska

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
July 13, 2010

I’m back in the Washington, D.C. heat after staying cool for almost a week in Alaska. Senator Mark Begich and his staff ensured that I experienced urban, rural and extreme rural Alaska with visits to Anchorage, Cordova, Kotzebue and Kiana. At each stop, Alaskans proved to me that Southerners do not have a monopoly on hospitality. They welcomed me with friendly smiles and full plates of Copper River Red Salmon that melted in my mouth, fresh Alaskan King Crab legs (for breakfast!) and even corned beef hash (my childhood morning obsession)! While I enjoyed every bite, I also benefited from an earful of feedback about the National Broadband Plan and proposed or current FCC policies.

Before the trip, I heard about all of the ways in which the “Great Land” differs from “the lower 48.” As I flew across the State and met with consumers, providers and other stakeholders, I gained an appreciation of the unique challenges faced by Alaskans. But I was more struck by the similarities. Fundamentally, we all share common goals – the improvement and enhancement of the communities in which we reside. Alaskans, like everyone else, recognize the power of broadband to help achieve these goals.

Connecting the urban, rural and extreme rural Alaskan communities allows individuals to expand their horizons. It also helps strengthen communities while maintaining cultural identities. Connecting to one’s cultural home should not be jeopardized by lack of access. Ubiquitous broadband can ensure that Alaskans and other individuals always have the option of staying close to home without sacrificing opportunities.

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Morning with the ALA

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 28, 2010

“Once you learn to read, you will forever be free.”
-- Frederick Douglass

This past Saturday, I had the honor of addressing the American Library Association Conference. This group is not only important to me because of the work they do in communities across the nation, but also because my mother, Emily, is a retired librarian.

In many communities, libraries are the primary places where people receive digital literacy training. As I emphasized in my speech, knowing how to read is no longer sufficient to be “literate” in the 21st Century. For the nearly 100 million Americans who do not have broadband at home, 22% cite digital literacy as the number one reason for not adopting broadband. Libraries rode the technology wave and recognized the problem of digital literacy long before there was a National Broadband Plan.

My remarks highlighted portions of the National Broadband Plan that support libraries’ efforts to promote deployment and adoption of broadband, including: (1) overhauling the Universal Service Fund, which was successful in bringing voice service to nearly every American; (2) developing a Unified Community Anchor Network for institutions, including libraries, to better use their connectivity to improve the lives of the people in their communities; and (3) creating a Digital Literacy Corps to address digital literacy issues.

During the question and answer session, I emphasized how, from the beginning of my tenure at the FCC, I have made a conscious effort to get input from organizations and institutions who work directly with the American people. In my view, that viewpoint is essential if we are to understand the implications of our actions at the federal level. I noted that I look forward to working with the ALA, as it represents such an important aspect of our National Broadband Plan. Thank to all the wonderful people at the conference who shared with me their thoughts and personal experiences.

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Sad Day

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 23, 2010

Today is one of great sadness for me because I just learned that I lost a dear friend, a mentor, and one of the most distinguished public servants and civil rights heroines I have ever known.

Some people have been very gracious in mentioning that I am the first African American female Commissioner at the FCC, but whenever I hear that, my thoughts immediately turn to all of those who had the courage and fortitude to break down a number of other barriers that made my service possible. Commissioner Marjorie Amos-Frazier was one of those pioneers. Her dedication to civil rights and to improving the lives of the less fortunate began, in the 1940’s, when she encouraged Charleston African Americans to register to vote and worked to desegregate the restaurants, theaters and other public places in the city. As director of the Alliance of Concerned Citizens for Better Government, between 1972 and 1976, she focused her attentions on providing better conditions for the poor. She ran and beat seven other candidates to win a seat on the Charleston County Council in 1974 because, “I had seen so much wrong doing and I felt there needed to be a change.” When she was elected to the South Carolina Public Service Commission in 1980, she was the first African-American, and the first non-legislator to hold that position. In 1988, she became vice-chairperson of the Commission and two years later she became chairperson. She served on the Commission until her retirement in 1993. She is the only African-American to have been installed into the Charleston Federation of Women's Club Hall of Fame -- yet another first for this dedicated public servant.

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Low-Income Pilot Program Roundtable

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 23, 2010

With so much information literally at our fingertips, it’s easy to take for granted a simple internet search to look up medical benefits or ailments, get directions, or apply for a job. But millions of Americans do not have broadband access at home and cannot participate in the information highway, which I believe is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

As I reiterated today in my remarks to participants at the Low-Income Pilot Program Roundtable, studies consistently show that cost is the greatest barrier to broadband adoption. The goal of today’s event was to develop pilot programs that provide subsidies for broadband access to low-income consumers. Not long ago, we faced the same problem with telephone service. However, many Americans now have access to this essential service because of support from the Universal Service Fund. For low-income consumers, our Lifeline and Link Up programs have helped connect them to this phone service. I support our efforts to shift these programs so they can also cover broadband service.

The roundtable brought together participants from communications and utilities companies, research centers, and nonprofits who champion the needs of senior citizens and low-income communities. I look forward to seeing the results of today’s collaborative discussion and am eager to implement pilot programs that enable low-income consumers to travel with us along the information highway.

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June Meeting

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 17, 2010

We just concluded our June agenda meeting. There was a big crowd hanging on to every word of the discussion regarding the Commission’s now-adopted Notice of Inquiry about the scope of our authority over broadband service. The Commission’s settled understanding of our authority was thrown into doubt as a result of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision this past April in Comcast v. FCC. After much deliberation, Chairman Genachowski proposed a thoughtful and creative approach to our dilemma.

As I noted in my statement today, powerful industry forces see this as an opportunity to eschew all oversight. Let’s face it, large companies who dominate the market like to call the shots. They also like to call Capitol Hill and state officials. In the first quarter alone, the two largest telecom companies spent a combined $10.65 million in their lobbying efforts. There is little question that figure will approach a whopping $50 million by year’s end.

While the FCC does not have its own army of paid lobbyists – and thus, we cannot reasonably compete for air or face time like major industry players – our dedication to our principles is no less fervent. When I signed on for this job, I made a commitment to the American people to operate in the public interest, and I will not be deterred despite being outspent. We have too much at stake and I’d like to think there are still some reasons to have faith in Washington these days.

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Back in the Midwest: Chicago

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 14, 2010

I flew out to Chicago yesterday to attend the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s 39th Annual Conference. This morning I opened a panel entitled “Wireless Spectrum Needs: What is the Best Way to Serve All of the American People?” Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and President of Rainbow PUSH, was kind enough to introduce me, along with Adrienne Biddings, from Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Public Representation.

I offered some brief remarks about a few of the important questions facing the Commission and Congress as we think about long-term spectrum policy. I highlighted my concerns about the diversity implications of spectrum reallocation, what role wireless should play in terms of the success of broadband adoption, and the need to provide new entrants and small businesses meaningful opportunities to acquire spectrum licenses. These are all issues that have a significant impact on communities of color.

It was great to see Rep. Maxine Waters in Chicago, as well as legendary civil rights leader Reverend Willie T. Barrow. Unfortunately, I did not have much time to spend in the Windy City as I have to head back to D.C. for a full week of meetings. Most notably, we have our monthly Commission agenda meeting this Thursday to chat about a little thing called “classification.” But I’ll save that for another day.

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