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Blog Posts by Mignon Clyburn

Morning with the ALA

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 28, 2010 - 06:30 AM

“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 - 06:30 AM

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 - 06:30 AM

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 - 06:30 AM

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 - 06:30 AM

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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St. Paul Postscript

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 11, 2010 - 06:30 AM

What a great ending to my four-day trip to the Midwest. There was no better way to spend it than with my new friends at the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Community broadcasting is essential to the overall fabric of our communications landscape and I enjoyed chatting with this talented and diverse group about the challenges they face.

One highlight of my trip was a visit to KFAI, a non-commercial, FM, community broadcast station. One of the most incredible things about this 30-plus-year-old station is that, in addition to its four paid employees and two scholarship interns, it has hundreds – yes hundreds – of volunteers that help put the station on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

KFAI is in the process of overhauling its programming schedule, so it was a fascinating time to chat with the staff and volunteers about the dynamics of that process. And speaking of programming, it is hard to imagine a more diverse operational lineup. One of the unique aspects of the station’s content is its Ethiopian and Somali programming, which serves as a bridge to home for the many immigrants from those countries. Like countless other local radio stations, KFAI struggles to achieve the right balance of education and entertainment – especially when it comes to the 35-and-younger crowd. It is never easy to figure how to balance providing what the local community needs and what other factors suggest it wants.

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From Kansas City to St. Paul

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 10, 2010 - 06:31 AM

I traveled out to the heartland of the country for a two-city tour over the last few days. My first stop was in Kansas City at the Mid-American Regulatory Conference (MARC). MARC is a regional organization of utility and energy regulatory agencies from 15 states.

I am well-acquainted with many of the good folks here, as I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with a number of them during my days as a Commissioner on the South Carolina Public Service Commission. On Monday night, I had the opportunity to attend the President’s Banquet, where I met Dr. Thomas Hoenig, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, as well as Missouri Public Service Commissioners Jeff Davis and Robert Kenny, and their wives. Dr. Hoenig, the evening’s keynote speaker, offered some insight into the risky behavior and other factors that caused the recent international economic crisis. Despite the downturn, he argued that there is reason for optimism as a number of signals already suggest that the economy is recovering.

My number was called Tuesday, as I addressed the general session with a look at the National Broadband Plan’s recommendations to reform the Universal Service Fund as well as other policies to deploy broadband in hard to serve areas. Universal service will be a major focus for the Commission over the next couple of years (and beyond). It is one of the most important and significant items on our ambitious agenda.

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Welcome to Clyburn Chat

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 10, 2010 - 06:30 AM

I finally decided that it was time for me to catch up to the rest of the world by officially entering the blogosphere. My hope is that this space will give me a good opportunity to share with you what is going on in my professional sphere from time to time, and to give you a window into some of the interesting happenings in the telecommunications world. This blog, however, is not meant to be all-encompassing; it will focus more on the interesting people I meet and events I attend when I travel throughout the country and abroad. Here we go…

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