Who is Mignon Clyburn?

So who is Mignon Clyburn and does she support Obama’s technology agenda?

Mignon Clyburn has been nominated to an open seat on the FCC. She would be the third Democrat on the FCC, along with Michael Copps, who serves now, and Julius Genachowski, who also awaits confirmation.  The FCC is central to Obama’s tech innovation agenda–which Obama announced during the primary campaign (you can find a later version here) and which consumer groups loved. The FCC is also central to Obama’s vision of the nation innovating itself out of this recession/depression.

Mignon Clyburn is now on the state regulatory body in South Carolina that regulates utilities including telecommunications.  I don’t know much about her views on telecom and Internet matters, as I don’t do a good enough job of following state regulatory issues.  But the press also doesn’t know much about her.  The press corps (see Dow Jones and Wall St J) do know that Clyburn is the daughter of a powerful Congressman, Jim Clyburn, who’s the House Majority Whip. CQ even noted this family connection with snark, almost implying nepotism.  Telecom veterans also don’t know much about her views.  Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge called Clyburn an “unknown.”  Gigi had never spoken to Clyburn, said that Clyburn worked on energy not telecom issues, and doubted many in DC had spoken with her.  Gigi also said that other people had speculated that Clyburn might side with the phone companies.

Why does Clyburn matter?  The way the FCC works, there are 5 Commissioners and you need 3 votes to get things done.  3 Commissioners come from the President’s party (two will be Republicans), so in theory the President’s party could have a majority on everything and move a progressive agenda.  That agenda could include a national Internet strategy, broadcasting reform, cable regulation, openness mandates, and wireless policy.  But.  But.  If one of the President’s Commissioners isn’t loyal to the President’s vision, then the FCC can’t advance that agenda.  The defecting Commissioner could have an effective veto.  We know Julius Genachowski stands with the President’s agenda; it seems Genachowski was a lead author of that agenda.  We also know that Michael Copps, the other Democratic Commissioner, is a long-time unwavering advocate for consumers.  So the third vote, the potential veto, is now in the hands of a woman about whom, apparently, many telecom lawyers in DC know absolutely nothing.

But I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.  The sooner we get a functioning FCC, the sooner we can begin reversing the dismal policy failures of the last eight years.

What I would do if I were Ms. Clyburn is to promptly and openly declare my views on the major pledges in Obama’s technology and innovation.  In December of 2008, Free Press (my favoritest organization) joined dozens of organizations including the ACLU and NOW in a letter, commending Mr. Obama on his campaign pledges (and reminding him once again of them).  Some of the pledges included:

Protect an Open Internet: To “take a backseat to no one in my commitment to Net Neutrality” and “protect the Internet’s traditional openness to innovation and creativity and ensure that it remains a platform for free speech and innovation that will benefit consumers and our democracy.”

Promote Universal, Affordable Broadband: To see that “in the country that invented the Internet, every child should have the chance to get online” by bringing “true broadband to every community in America.”

Diversify Media Ownership: To create “the diverse media environment that federal law requires and the country deserves.”

Renew Public Media: To foster “the next generation of public media,” and “support the transition of existing public broadcasting entities and help renew their founding vision in the digital world.”

We have to assume that the Obama administration asked Ms. Clyburn if she agreed with Obama’s agenda.  And that she said yes.  I’m confident in the administration’s ability to vet candidates (with some notable faltering, but still, I think they’ve learned their lessons).

Ms. Clyburn could probably could end a lot of worrying and speculation by just coming out and saying the obvious: yes, she agrees with President Obama and fully supports his vision for technology and innovation.  I’m sure that’ll come soon, and when it does everyone can get down to the hard work of righting our wrong media and Internet policies.

UPDATE: People who actually know Ms. Clyburn rave about her.  Much of the nervousness may be just because few in DC know her.

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