Remarks by FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn
Catholic University’s 2012 Telecommunications Symposium
Wiley Rein LLP
April 11, 2012
Good morning everyone. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to join you all
Most of you know that I am neither a graduate of the Columbus School of Law, nor did I
attend any of its undergraduate counterparts. I sometimes wish that I could boast of reading
every edition of the CommLaw Conspectus cover-to-cover
, in that architecturally beautiful and
well-stocked law library on John McCormack Road, but I didn’t. The influence of Catholic’s
law school, however, is literally all around me: in the FCC’s bureaus, front offices, and in
telecom subcommittee offices on the Hill. And don’t even get me started on the FCBA…
Catholic alumni have entrenched themselves so deep within our nation’s powerful
organizations, it is almost as if you are attempting to achieve global dominance. Perhaps we
should write a screenplay and see if any studios would jump at it.
Seriously, CUA Law graduates have been integral to the success of the Commission, and
a significant part of my office. A number of students have served as law clerks in my suite, and
one of them, Ian Forbes, is now Mr. Big Time. I hope he remembers little old me as his star
rockets into the stratosphere.
And two of my legal advisors, Angie Kronenberg and Dave Grimaldi, are proud alums.
My third advisor, Louis Peraertz, feels left out as he fights for Harvard Law relevance.
This institution has added much thought leadership and constructive dialogue to the
business of the FCC and your counsel and keen intellect serves all of us well.
I am not bashful about saying how proud I am of what the FCC has accomplished during
this administration. The Comcast/NBCU transaction, bill shock solutions, CVAA enactment,
USF reform, and more. We’ve kept a watchful eye on the public interest, and will continue to do
so. We have collaborated, created, edited, argued, and celebrated.
I’m not sure if the energy, drama, and suspense of the past two years or so can ever be replicated,
but we survived it, and I believe the country is better as a result.
The spring and summer stretch will be overwhelmed by the hurricane of presidential
politics, and will be followed by the calming cricket sounds of Washington hallways come late
July. It’s always tough to predict what or how much will get done in years like this, but the FCC
will be real busy.
By the end of this month, we will be ruling on an item that has drawn much attention
from a number of people. Our consideration of broadcast disclosure requirements has generated
much buzz over the past year, and it is culminating in a document that is currently under review.
We’re considering whether to put on the web, the public files currently kept by broadcasters
inside of their stations, and if it decided that it should be done, we must decide how much
information should be disclosed, and how should broadcasters make such disclosures. I
mentioned in my statement when we passed the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on this item,
that “public” files should serve their named purpose, and the best way to ensure that, is to meet
the public as forthrightly and openly as possible – and the new meeting place for that is most
certainly the Internet.
In reviewing the comments on this proceeding, I am gratified that there is widespread
consensus on this current reality, but as always, the proverbial devil is in the details. I am aware
of the many concerns of the broadcasters, and feel compelled to reiterate that a transition to a
digital system needs to be handled carefully, and in a manner sensitive to the capacities of
differently situated broadcasters. My staff and I will have a number of conversations with all
interested parties, and I look forward to the benefits that will result from these exchanges.
The Commission’s historic, unanimous approval of Universal Service Fund and
Intercarrier Compensation reform in the fall last year, will keep several Bureaus of the agency
very busy over the next few years. Here’s a snapshot of what’s in store on USF reform…
In addition to addressing several Petitions for Reconsideration, the agency is
implementing Phase I of the Connect America Fund, completing the regression analysis for rate-
of-return reform, working on a model for Phase II of the Connect America Fund, and conducting
an auction for Mobility Fund Phase I support. If that sounds labor intensive, you’ve got great
instincts. It is and will be.
Of great importance for us all, is the beneficial impact these reforms will have on
consumers and their communities. We expect that millions of consumers will gain access to
fixed and mobile broadband networks where they live, work, and travel. But these reforms are
not self-effectuating. We are well underway with the first phase of the Mobility Fund, which
will include the FCC’s first reverse auction ever. Set for late September of this year, Phase I of
the Connect America Fund and the Mobility Fund will inject capital—$600 million in the short-
term—to begin extending broadband networks, both wired and wireless, to unserved Americans.
The new Connect America Fund, will facilitate the acceleration of broadband build-out, to the
approximately 18 million Americans living in rural areas who currently have no access to a
robust broadband infrastructure. Reform will not only drive economic growth in rural America,
but will expand the online marketplace nationwide, creating jobs and business opportunities
across the country. Over the long-term, we are moving duplicative support from multiple
networks, to those areas that wouldn’t receive service, but for federal funding.
It is a basic, but widely agreed upon principle, that we all win when everyone is
connected to our communications infrastructure. The investments made in these networks
increase in value, and the economic opportunities for individuals and communities are improved.
Our goal is to connect as many Americans as possible, to both voice and broadband services, but
we cannot solely focus on deployment to these unserved areas. We also must address the
barriers that keep Americans from subscribing to those services which in turn, keep them on the
Currently for voice, we have the Lifeline program that has been instrumental in
connecting tens of millions of Americans who could otherwise not afford to maintain plain old
telephone service. And it is evident from the data, that the telephone penetration rate would not
be what it is today, but for this critical program. As many of you know, we recently issued an
Order to reform Lifeline in order to ensure its survivability, so that it can continue to serve our
most vulnerable citizens. One of the most important steps we took, was to begin modernizing
this program by instituting database functionalities to address duplicative service and eligibility.
These are no easy tasks and our staff will be working on this implementation through 2013.
This reform also includes an expressed goal of ensuring the availability of broadband for
all low-income consumers. One-third of Americans, or approximately 100 million consumers
have not yet adopted broadband at home. If you consider the growing importance of the Internet
to our lives, these numbers are startling. But the statistics are real and with more information
and services moving online, it is just as important that we find a way to connect low-income
consumers to the broadband networks as we did with voice. Affordable and ubiquitous
broadband can unlock vast new opportunities for Americans, in communities large and small,
with respect to consumer welfare, civic participation, public safety and homeland security,
community development, health care delivery, energy independence and efficiency, education,
worker training, private sector investment, entrepreneurial activity, job creation and economic
growth, and other critical, national purposes. We adopted a pilot program, using up to $25
million, to test and determine how Lifeline can best be used to increase broadband adoption
among low-income consumers. The FCC will begin soliciting applications from broadband
providers and funding these projects this year.
In addition to this important work, the Commission has been encouraging industry to help
close the digital divide through affordable service offerings to low-income consumers. The
Commission will continue its work with the public-private partnership called Connect to
Compete to find collective solutions and will further explore USF support for digital literacy
training in our libraries and schools, where communities have no such classes today.
Just consider the power of broadband, and the role it can play in education. The
Commission and the Department of Education just announced a push for states and industry
leaders to adopt digital textbooks over the next five years. Imagine a world where a teacher can
digitally and instantly view the passages highlighted by his or her students, quickly track student
performance and provide feedback right away. In California, Khan Academy, an education non-
profit, has already piloted the use of alternative education systems that rely heavily on software
and broadband, to provide children with a new learning environment where teachers can interact
immediately with students if they get an answer wrong or get stuck on a problem. If students are
struggling, they can download taped class lessons or access digital guides, and all of this is made
possible by broadband availability.
Undeniably, broadband fluency is imperative to efficiently educate our nation, and that
realization begins with access
. Developing public-private partnerships, and other solutions to
provide this access, should be, I believe, a national priority. This is why we still have much
more work to do this year, and the next, with respect to ensuring that all consumers have the
capacity to adopt broadband.
As committed as we are to implementing our high-cost and Lifeline reforms, and
continuing our work on broadband adoption, we also are committed to working in other areas of
USF. My colleague, Commissioner McDowell, whose chief of staff Angela Giancarlo is also a
CUA Law School grad, has been leading the call to complete our task on USF contributions
reform and our rural healthcare reform, I fully expect that we will endeavor to do so this year.
Our staff also continues to review special access, and I have also asked, that the agency commit
the necessary resources, to complete our review of two inmate payphone petitions, that have
been pending far too long, and have significant implications for making phone service affordable
for inmates and their families who are currently making unbelievable economic sacrifices in
order to keep their families connected.
The Commission should also be focused on giving all Americans access to a
competitive mobile broadband market. This past February, Congress received much deserved
accolades for giving the Commission authority to conduct voluntary incentive auctions that could
free up more spectrum for commercial mobile broadband services. This was historic. As many
of you know, one of the more important findings in the National Broadband Plan was that, over
the past few years, the Nation’s demand for mobile broadband services has increased
dramatically. This means we must reallocate more spectrum for such services, and holding
voluntary incentive auctions is one of the keys to address this issue. As industry insiders know,
the effort to adopt rules to make this auction happen is at the top of the agency’s priority list.
But, during my tenure at the FCC, I have learned if we want all Americans to enjoy the
benefits that come from a competitive mobile broadband market, in the short term, we cannot
just be concerned about a voluntary incentive auction or a Mobility Fund auction.
In order to address the fact that millions of Americans that still are served by two or
fewer mobile service providers, we must also turn our attention to other areas in the mobile
wireless service industry that may not be as competitive. Greater competition in the wireless
backhaul market must be promoted.
We should be very concerned that some of the most valuable spectrum we have ever
auctioned -- the lower portion of the 700 MHz band -- enjoys the unfortunate distinction of being
the only band that lacks interoperability. When it comes to this issue, I am eager to see either an
industry solution, or an order mandating interoperability in the lower portion of the band, by the
end of this calendar year. We should also be concerned with roaming in that most providers are
still having trouble entering into roaming agreements with larger nationwide providers, and this
especially impacts smaller, regional providers and ultimately, competitive options. Additionally,
we should urge the industry to consider sharing of spectrum through dynamic spectrum access
technologies for greater resource efficiency.
I came to the FCC at an extraordinary time and for that, I am most grateful. Under the
leadership of President Obama, Congress, and our Chairman, the FCC’s primary goal has been to
advance broadband and all of the significant benefits it offers our nation.
I have been truly moved by how this technology has changed lives all over the world, and
how that potential must be harnessed in order to benefit those who stand to gain the most.
However, fostering our Nation’s movement into an increasingly digital world should not
be limited to the deployment and adoption of efficient broadband systems. New technologies
can have a profound impact on public safety as well. The FCC is exploring ways to improve the
infrastructure of 9-1-1 response systems to bring them into the 21st Century. Americans today
communicate by text, voice, email, picture messages, and video messages. Unfortunately, the
abilities of most local Public Safety Answering Points are limited in emergency situations. “Dial
9-1-1 in the case of an emergency” is swiftly becoming a dated slogan and we must all come to
terms with that. The FCC is working hard with industry leaders to bring 9-1-1 systems into the
now generation, where you may be able to text a picture of an assailant or instant message your
exact physical location to the police. The FCC works with other agencies to maintain the public
interest, and there is arguably no greater public interest than public safety.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we will continue our work on the implementation
of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. We will ensure that low-
income Americans who are deaf/blind will be able to acquire, at no cost, the specialized end-user
equipment they need to communicate. We will also ensure that the sustainability of the
telecommunications relay fund, by requiring Voice Over the Internet Protocol providers to
contribute to that fund.
Further, in the not-too-distant future, emergency information provided on TV
programming will be made available to the blind, and video programming devices will have user
interfaces and navigation menus, that are accessible to people with disabilities.
And that, believe it or not, is the short
version of what’s likely in store for this year. I am
hopeful that we accomplish it all and much more, as our agency and its great staff are up to the
task. I look forward to seeing you all in our building, and during the myriad conventions and
seminars, and wish you to know, once again, how grateful I am to this institution and the
individuals that you represent, for all of your help and counsel.
Thank you once again, and continue to enjoy your week.