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Blog Posts by Mignon Clyburn

Detroit’s Digital Divide

October 27, 2015 - 01:43 PM
Photo of  Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn

It’s always good to get out of Washington. It’s even better when you get to visit one of America’s great cities. This week, we have had the pleasure of visiting the Motor City: Detroit, Michigan.

In the mid-20th century, Detroit’s economy got a boost from a new network of highways that fueled a spike in auto manufacturing from eight million units in 1950 to a peak of 15 million in the 1970s. Today, new broadband networks are creating even greater opportunities for the people of Detroit, but they are also raising new challenges. The most immediate challenge is that an unacceptable number of Detroit residents are being bypassed by the broadband revolution. Detroit’s digital divide is among the most extreme in the nation. Thirty-eight percent of its residents do not have broadband at home. For low-income households, the percentage offline is a whopping 63 percent.

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Another Step Toward Fairness in Inmate Calling Services

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
September 30, 2015 - 12:46 PM

Over two years ago, the FCC adopted an Order reforming rates for inmate calling services, easing the burden of exorbitant charges for millions of families. This change was a long time coming. The journey began in 2003 when Mrs. Martha Wright, a retired nurse from Washington, D.C., came before the Commission seeking relief from the hundred-dollars-a-month bills she was making significant personal sacrifices to pay so she could stay in touch with her imprisoned grandson. Over the next decade, others from around the country joined this cause. I was honored to hold the gavel when the inmate calling reform Order was adopted in August 2013, and humbled that many of the petitioners who demanded change – including Mrs. Wright’s grandson – were in the Commission Meeting Room that day.

The 2013 Order was a big deal. But it was also only a first step. It covered interstate calls but not intrastate, and the caps the Commission adopted were interim pending further review. Over the past two years, we’ve been able to learn from the initial reforms, and today the Commission is moving forward with an item that draws on these lessons and takes another important step forward to make inmate calling rates affordable to promote connectivity with friends and family to prevent inmates returning home as strangers, which increases the likelihood of recidivism.

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OCBO Promotes Greater Supplier Diversity

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
August 21, 2015 - 11:51 AM

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend the morning sessions of the Federal Communications Commission’s Fourth Supplier Diversity Conference, which highlighted the importance of these efforts in the communications industry.  The FCC’s Office of Communications Business Opportunities (OCBO) organized the event and during my welcoming remarks, I gave a special “shout out” to Director Thomas Reed because, prior to his tenure, the agency had never held supplier diversity workshops.

It is not often mentioned, but diversity is woven into the very fabric of our national communications policy.  Section 257 of the Communications Act directs the FCC to lower barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and small businesses, in the provision of parts and services, to communications companies. 

Even if this directive were not in our federal statute, supplier diversity is important because it yields tremendous benefits to all stakeholders, not just the companies awarded the bid.  Supplier diversity adds great economic value to our nation because it enables these diverse businesses to grow, which in turn, produces incredible multiplier effects. 

Our nation’s economic recovery and sustainability are improved because these enterprises are more likely to hire from and invest in their own communities, which often are underserved and lacking in adequate investment.  Because many of these businesses are small and forced by lack of scale to be resourceful, they are more likely to be energized, nimble and creative.  They bring unique talents and perspectives to market and are more likely to provide cutting edge products and services to existing and emerging consumer markets.  Given the dramatic shifts in our demographic landscape here and across the globe, these elements are proving to be keys to success.

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Takeaways from CES2015: Wireless Innovation, Diversity and Openness

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
January 13, 2015 - 10:47 AM
Tuning in at CES. Here I am outside the Gibson Guitar Tent. #CES2015. (click for larger version)
Tuning in at CES. Here I am outside the Gibson Guitar Tent. #CES2015.

Once again, I made my gadget obsessed friends green with envy by attending the International Consumer Electronics Show -- sacred ground for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies. By the end of CES, tech journalists and casual guests have identified their favorite gadgets that were created by some of the most hyper-enthusiastic entrepreneurs you will ever meet. To be sure, that 3-D printer capable of producing a dress perfectly tailored for Mignon made the cut, but the main import of this year’s show, were the powerful messages that 3,600 exhibitors are sending about the impact of technology in our lives. Below are my top three takeaways.

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Making Good on the Promise of Independent Minority Ownership of Television Stations

December 4, 2014 - 01:52 PM

Increasing minority ownership of television broadcast stations has been an often-stated, but elusive goal.  While there is widespread agreement on the need for progress, there has been very little by way of new ideas to solve the twin problems of access and opportunity.  For several years, the only path available to minority entrepreneurs required troubling financial dependency and constrained programming choices.  With the Media Bureau’s approval of several transactions today, however, we see the emergence of new ownership models that will not only bring more independent voices to the station ownership ranks in a manner that promotes diversity, competition, and localism. 

Each recent success detailed below is grounded in steps the Commission took this year to rein in abuse of the “sidecar” business model.  This allowed television station owners to structure broadcast transactions in ways that openly circumvented our local TV ownership rule, which generally forbids ownership of more than one station in a local market.  The effect was to deny opportunities for minority ownership and management. 

In aligning our treatment of Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs) for TV stations -- which permitted the larger, financially dominant station in a market to sell advertising for a weaker station -- with that of radio stations, we sought to reduce any influence on programming at the smaller station that might naturally attach to such arrangements. Moreover, allowing major broadcasters to tie up stations as sidecars made it harder for truly independent would-be broadcasters to compete to buy available stations. 

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FOCUS100’s Push for Greater Diversity in the Tech Industry

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
October 27, 2014 - 02:58 PM

Earlier this month, I travelled to New York City to attend digitalundivided’s FOCUS100, which describes itself as “the most diverse tech conference on the planet.”  I was inspired by dozens of women who either have founded technology companies or are having a direct impact on bridging digital divides.  The federal government shutdown kept me from addressing the group last year when I served as Acting Chairwoman, but this year, I was thrilled to attend.

According to published reports, African American women in the tech industry receive less than one percent of the financing venture capital funds provide each year.  So in 2012, Kathryn Finney founded, to arm diverse female tech innovators, from all over the world, with the training, mentorship and exposure needed to successfully participate in the male dominated industry.  “The social enterprise that develops programs that increase the active participation of urban communities, especially women, in the digital space,” provides classes and events to promote four key areas:  (1) Start – a workshop series focused on teaching urban entrepreneurs how to turn their ideas into a product; (2) Grow – a network of meet-ups that allow entrepreneurs to support each other; (3) Focus – a program that mentors tech companies that black women cofounded; and (4) Invest – a project that helps urban tech companies find funding.  

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Spreading the Good Word about Lifeline

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
September 8, 2014 - 01:34 PM

Most Americans take their home phone service for granted. But for families who are struggling to pay for food, clothing and shelter, phone service is a luxury that often must be put on hold for better times. Unfortunately, those better times may be elusive without the connection that basic phone service provides to jobs, support from family and friends, and emergency services.

That's where the FCC's Lifeline program fits in. Since 1985, Lifeline has offered a discount on phone service to low-income consumers so that everyone can have access to the jobs, opportunities and security that a home phone provides. This week, the FCC is teaming up with our partners in the states to host Lifeline Awareness Week to get out the word about this vital program. We want to make sure that low-income consumers are aware of the program – and understand the rules for participation.

Together with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, our partners in Lifeline Awareness Week, we have posted on our web site important information about program benefits and the rules for companies and consumers alike. For example, companies must only sign up consumers who are eligible, and consumers must recertify their eligibility annually – or else lose their Lifeline service. This way, we preserve Lifeline for those who need it the most.

The most important point of Lifeline Awareness Week is this: empowering the neediest among us with the benefits of basic communications benefits society as a whole by helping lift families out of poverty and expanding opportunities. Spread the word!

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Opportunity Abounding in STEM

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
May 30, 2014 - 02:46 PM

You would have been both amazed and encouraged if you had accompanied me across the Potomac River to northern Virginia recently. I had the pleasure of spending a stimulating afternoon at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, the real-life high school made famous by the inspirational hit movie, “Remember the Titans”. But the buzz surrounding this day was not about the football team; it was all about technology and innovation, and how tech executives, entrepreneurs, developers and policy makers came together to engage and inspire students to pursue careers and entrepreneurial opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Innovation Afternoons” is part of a program in which an earnest and committed group of business leaders, entrepreneurs and educators are nurturing a pipeline of diverse future STEM leaders. Under the banner of the Equal Footing Foundation, community leaders also fund, launch and sustain “computer clubhouses” in partnership with local governments, businesses and nonprofits.

The result is an innovative, after school learning center where students 8-18 can work with adult mentors to learn, develop and explore their interests as future STEM leaders. Many of these students do not independently have access to technology, so the computer clubhouse is their gateway to the web and all that it holds for young technologists. Today, this program supports 1,500 students every week, and hosts 30,000 individual visitors every year. It has been recognized and awarded for outstanding academics, citizenship and peer-to-peer mentoring.

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The Caged Bird Sings . . . My Brief But Incredible Brush With Greatness

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
May 28, 2014 - 10:00 PM

A remarkable woman once told us: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  That woman was the indomitable Dr. Maya Angelou.

When I was asked to do a live radio interview with one of the most talented souls to ever take pen to paper, I had a groundswell of feelings—honor, joy, apprehension and humility—sentiments stirred up to that point only by the call from the White House asking me to serve on the FCC.

As I carefully collected my thoughts in advance of my maiden interview with Dr. Angelou, I was filled with anticipation because I knew she was going to delve into the historic significance of my appointment.  She is – and was—one of America’s most cherished chroniclers of history and culture, and this moment would not be lost on her.

In retrospect, I say somewhat immodestly, our interview went very well.  But honestly, it was not because of me, but all because of her. Our discussion was notable and noteworthy because she brought her “Angelou” soul to the microphone.  We were sisters, talking about a uniquely American historical moment, sharing accolades and smiles, even though we were separated by hundreds of miles.  Her incomparable depth of knowledge and her unmistakably mellifluous tone added warmth and texture to the instant rapport.  She had a special way of bringing you in close enough to get a little glimmer of her world, with all of its mahogany richness and melodramatic reality, just long enough so you felt the depth of her humanity.

My heart is heavy, as I join millions who mourn the loss of this wonderful soul who serenaded us with words and wisdom, yet I cannot help but smile just a bit, because I will never forget how she made me feel.

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Preserving An Ever-Free and Open Internet

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
May 7, 2014 - 04:51 PM

Over 100,000 Americans have spoken.

And during the past few weeks, tens of thousands of consumers, companies, entrepreneurs, investors, schools, educators, healthcare providers and others have reached out to ask me to keep the Internet free and open. 

While the calls, emails and letters are new, my commitment to Internet freedom is not.  In fact, my public efforts to preserve a free and open Internet began many years ago.

While it is my normal practice not to comment in advance on items which are on circulation out of my deep respect for the integrity of our regulatory and administrative process, given the high level of attention and the outpouring of expression on the notice of proposed rulemaking on Open Internet, I felt it was important to highlight my previously stated views.

When I voted to approve the 2010 Open Internet Order, I voiced four concerns about the scope of the rules and the legal theory upon which the Order was based.

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