Posted on May 2, 2009, Printed on May 4, 2009
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There is a disturbing possibility that President Obama has put his excellent open media and network neutrality platform at risk with his latest--and last--Democratic FCC appointment, Mignon Clyburn.
There are five seats in the FCC, and "only three commissioners may be members of the same political party." For the next five years, the FCC will have a 3-2 Democratic majority, once the remaining Republican open seat has been filled. That makes this appointment by President Obama the key swing vote that will largely determine FCC policy and regulation over the next five years.
In 2006, Representative Clyburn voted against H. Amdt. 987 to ensure that network neutrality clauses be added to the Title VII of the Communication Act of 1934. The amendment required all broadband service provides to "operate its broadband network in a nondiscriminatory manner so that any person can offer or provide content, applications, and services through, or over, such broadband network with equivalent or better capability than the provider extends to itself or affiliated parties, and without the imposition of a charge for such nondiscriminatory network operation."
While Mignon might not have the same views as her father, what we do know about her ranges from unclear to unpromising:
Here's what we do know. Clyburn serves on the South Carolina public service commission (which is considered very pro-Bell). She is virtually unknown by knowledgeable telecom people. And, she seems to have focused more on energy issues than telecom, if early accounts are to be believed. Plus, Verizon and the cable trade association are very happy. All in all, not good.
At Sprint Nextel, we believe that Mignon Clyburn would bring experience, deep policy understanding and the perspective of a state utility commissioner to the FCC. We have worked with her in South Carolina where she has served on that state's Public Service Commission and we look forward to working with her again on any number of issues including restoring competition to the failed special access markets that are stifling broadband deployment in our country.
Feel reassured about the new deciding FCC vote on net neutrality and open media yet? This is a dangerous and risky appointment by President Obama that will need extensive clarification in the coming days and weeks leading up to her confirmation hearing. It seems possible that more information will be revealed that will demand a withdrawal of the appointment.
Media is one of the five most dominant ideological institutions in our country (work, school, worship, and family/demography being the other four). Also, the rise of self-publishing and social networking options created by the network neutral Internet has created a cultural explosion that is both unparalleled in human history and helped turn the country in largely progressive. This may sometimes seem like a wonky boutique issue, but over the long-term it is as essential to the progressive movement, and indeed an improved world, as any other area of policy.
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