Commissioner Clyburn Prepared Remarks, 2013 WTA Spring Meeting, TX
Prepared Remarks of FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn2013 WTA Spring Meeting
San Antonio, Texas
April 9, 2013Thank you Derrick for that kind introduction and it is such a pleasure to join all of you this
morning. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to speak with you for the very first time about our work at
the Commission as well as the common goals we share.
For you see, we are all public stewards—y’all—I can get away with saying y’all in South
Carolina and here in Texas—are ensuring that your local communities are served with high-quality
communications networks and back at the ranch in Washington, D.C., I am working with my colleagues
to develop and implement the best policies to ensure that all Americans are connected and no one is left
Those goals, more often than not, are met with great challenges, but together I am convinced we
can advance solutions that will have the biggest and best impact. To that end, all y’all—I hear that’s the
plural here in Texas for y’all—are well represented by the leadership of WTA. Both Kelly and Derrick
do a terrific job of bringing those issues to our attention and are working hard with us on how to best
address those challenges.
For many years, we have been tasked by Congress with making communications services
available nationwide for all. When the 1996 Telecommunications Act was passed, it actually required us
to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable communications services. While 100 Meg service
was not around then, the broad language of the Act stated that our goals would be “the preservation and
advancement of universal service” for both traditional phone service and advanced services such as
broadband communications. From this Act, I do not need to remind this audience, the Universal Service
Fund was born.
During my FCC tenure, we have not only embraced its core goal of enhancing and preserving the
availability of voice service, we have been steadfast in reforming and modernizing all four programs in
the Fund for the broadband reality of today. Of course, I know that the adjustments made to the high-
cost program have not come easy, but because of this, the Commission has been continuously mindful of
considering modifications to the reforms as needed. But it’s very important that we look at the entire
landscape and its parts as we evaluate the proposed adjustments. And in doing so, I believe it is crucial
that we keep in front of mind any impact on our reform goals as laid out in the Order; namely, to promote
advanced networks, to reduce waste, fraud and inefficiency, to require accountability, and the transition to
incentive-based policies. I wholeheartedly embrace the principle that our actions must consider the
impact on consumers, but in doing so, we must balance the needs of all consumers—those who are
contributing, as well as those who are benefitting.
As some of you may know, it was very important to me that any proposed or realized high-cost
reforms involve transition time, a glide path, meaning no flash cuts, and an opportunity for
reconsideration for individual carriers where they could demonstrate impact on service capabilities and
harm to consumers through a robust and engaged waiver process. To date, the Commission has received
12 waiver requests; our Bureau has acted on half of them and continues to work with carriers to resolve
the others. I have encouraged staff to collaborate with carriers, to streamline the filing and review
process, and to resolve issues as quickly as possible. My office, under the leadership of my legal adviser
Angie Kronenberg, and I have been available to assist carriers through the review process and we remain
committed to this goal.
Our implementation of the high-cost reform is well underway to address the needs of the 19
million Americans who still do not have access to broadband. We have distributed financial support for
fixed and mobile broadband to areas that are unserved in Phase I, and Phase II is in process. It is critical
that the Commission faithfully and responsibly implement the reforms so that we can continue to see the
expansion of fixed and mobile networks to unserved consumers, and I remain committed to doing my part
to see that through.
There are many issues on the Commission’s plate right now—it’s sort of like a Texas barbecue
buffet, but not nearly as tasty. We are implementing the reforms for the Lifeline program, which were
voted in January 2012 largely on a bi-partisan basis and made significant improvements to address waste,
fraud, and abuse, while ensuring that those low-income consumers who continue to need financial
assistance accessing voice service can do so. Over $200 million was saved last year in this program as a
result of our reforms and we estimate $400 million will be saved this year.
In addition, we are in process of modernizing the Lifeline program by implementing a user
database. I believe a database will do even more to ensure that there is no waste in this program and I am
encouraged that we are moving on the duplicates functionality, and I continue to believe, that adding
eligibility functionality is critical and must be done expeditiously. We also are funding some pilot
projects to help us review the broadband needs of low-income consumers and to better address the
significant adoption gap for this population. This is ground-breaking work in the Lifeline program and I
am pleased to see that a variety of carriers are participating, including rural, rate-of-return carriers, for
one-third of Americans have not adopted broadband at home and for those who are in the lower-income
brackets, they are being left further behind and increasingly disadvantaged.
One of my last acts as Chair of the FCC’s Federal-State Joint Conference on Advanced Services
was to help coordinate and host a summit in February at the Commission to focus on the various adoption
programs underway. We highlighted a number of successful projects and the latest academic thinking,
and what we have learned so far is that adoption has slowed in recent years and those consumers who
have yet to adopt have multiple reasons for not doing so. Cost remains a significant barrier and
convincing those non-digital natives to get online, typically, involves a trusted local partner, digital
literacy training, and subsidized services and equipment when affordability is an issue. But I am
convinced that the Commission’s Lifeline broadband pilot projects will lead to additional data for the
Commission to study in order to further advance adoption, especially for low-income, senior and minority
consumers. Moreover, I am encouraged by private sector efforts committed to increasing broadband
adoption in disadvantaged communities.
It is a matter of fairness, one senior executive so aptly stated recently. These are the communities
that can be helped the most by high-speed Internet access and the public and private sectors should
continue to work together in order to better address this imperative. As a nation, we can ill-afford to
leave anyone behind. The investments made in these networks should be put to their fullest use and that
is simply not occurring for those on the digital sidelines. Imagine if our nation had deployed the electric
grid but one-third of Americans didn’t or couldn’t purchase electric service—despite the fact that the
networks run right down their streets and to their homes. I know and you know that we must continue to
tackle this significant issue together. Not only for the sake of improving the economic opportunities of all
citizens and communities but also for the sake of the public and private investments being made in the
networks including the universal service funding.
The steps we have been taking to address the rural broadband needs also include reforming our
Rural Healthcare program, a vote we took last December. The rural Healthcare Connect Fund
implementation is underway and presents a unique opportunity for all of you to work with rural healthcare
providers. We are living longer, playing harder, working, residing and vacationing in places that not so
long ago seemed out of reach. On top of and as a result of these trends with our healthcare bills rising and
the demand for electronic health records becoming the norm, it is clear that broadband has the greatest
potential to aid us in realizing the optimal efficiencies in healthcare service delivery, even in the most
remote areas of this nation. So with the implementation of the Healthcare Connect Fund facilities in
rural, currently underserved communities will now have opportunities to obtain desired broadband
services allowing for better healthcare delivery to these areas.
As important as broadband is however, we cannot forget about our mandate to provide
nationwide voice service. Shoring up our policies to ensure that voice calls are completed has been a
priority for me. As many of you know, the Commission has taken several steps in this area. Most
recently, we issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking as well as a consent decree to address rural call
completion issues. Whether a telephone call is being made from across the street or across the nation,
consumers expect them to be completed, so when calls are not timely received, not only is it frustrating, it
is detrimental to those seeking to conduct business, is life-threatening to those in cases of emergency and
it critical for those who need to convey time-sensitive personal information.
Call completion isn’t simply about inconvenience, for we have heard first-hand about lost
business and economic opportunities—which is especially detrimental to rural communities—of families
unable to connect during times of crises and of very real public safety vulnerabilities. And I cannot
emphasize enough both the public safety and economic impacts that I am committed to addressing as the
Commission resolves this issue. I ask that you all continue to work with me on additional steps the
Commission should take on rural call completion.
Again, as it relates to public safety, of course, this is a critical issue of which the Commission
remains committed and active. We are continuing to review our country’s critical communications needs
particularly after significant natural disaster events and the FCC knows that it must keep working to
improve the reliability of our nation’s communications networks. When Congress created the FCC in
1934, it made one of the Commission’s fundamental obligations “the promotion of safety of life and
property through the use of wire and radio communications.” The devastation and service outages caused
by last summer’s Derecho and Super Storm Sandy show that this obligation remains as vital today as it
did almost eighty years ago. While we may not be able to prevent natural disasters, we can and must
improve our Nation’s ability to respond to these events.
We also are continuing to implement the provisions of recent laws. For example, in 2010,
Congress passed and the President signed, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act
to ensure that all citizens, no matter their disability, have an opportunity to use the communications
devices and services that fully-abled citizens take for granted. I am extremely proud of the work that the
Commission has done for nearly 54 million citizens who so often struggle for access to services and
adequate devices. And we also are implementing the provisions of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job
Creation Act of 2012, wherein Congress authorized the Commission to conduct incentive auctions of
broadcast television spectrum to help meet the increasing wireless spectrum needs of the nation. It also
sets directives for the establishment of the first nationwide wireless broadband public safety network.
You also may have heard that I have been personally active in promoting the Commission’s
review of phone rates that families of inmates must pay to stay in contact with their incarcerated loved
ones. This is a very important proceeding that has the potential to benefit all of society. In many prisons
throughout the nation the cost to stay in contact with distant relatives is much higher than the typical long
distance call—in some cases up to $17 for a 15-minute call. Every credible study has shown that close
family connections help reduce recidivism rates; however, high inmate phone rates discourage this. Most
of these families are low-income, often live hundreds and in some cases thousands of miles from the
facilities where their loved ones are held, making frequent in person visits nearly impossible. And then
there are the children. Approximately 2.7 million children in the U.S. have lost at least one parent to
incarceration, and any teacher or social worker will tell you the significant impact this has on them. This
is an issue that the Commission is actively reviewing, and I fully expect that when our record is complete
later this month, we will move quickly to address this situation.
As you can hear, there is a lot on our plate but, an incredible staff of about 1700 people are
committed to serving the best interest of all Americans. I am very proud of the work we do and I want to
thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address you today.
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