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FCC's Clyburn Emerges as a Powerful Voice for Net Neutrality

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When Mignon Clyburn's nomination for FCC commissioner was announced last year, the news met with mixed reactions from seasoned agency watchers.

Would Clyburn cast a deciding vote for President Obama's bold technology agenda? Or would she fall in with the entrenched special interests that have fought reform and controlled media policy at the FCC for decades?

A that time, little was known about her position on pressing Internet issues, such as Net Neutrality and universal access.

Now we know.

Getting On Board

"Ladies and gentlemen, our country's broadband express -- and yes, it is an express -- is leaving the station. And for those who don't have a ticket, they will be left standing at the gate," Clyburn said during an inspiring keynote address at Howard University.

In October, Clyburn spoke in favor of the FCC's Net Neutrality proceeding, as the agency embarked on a process to make an open Internet the rule of the road.

On Friday, she made her position even more clear:

"Broadband's key promise for people of color in particular is economic empowerment. For the first time, there are no immediate and overwhelming barriers to entry for upstart businessmen and women or 'cyberpreneurs.' Broadband has opened avenues never dreamed possible by those in challenged communities.

"...I believe in smart regulation, which is why, for example, we have begun a process that will account for reasonable network management. But I hope we can work together to create strong rules that do not cede control of the most significant communications advancement in our lifetimes. By sitting this one out, or worse, by throwing up roadblocks that will enable what is now 'our' Internet to become 'their' Internet, we simply would be reinstating the very kinds of imbalanced structures that we have been attempting for decades to dismantle in other contexts."

The path before Clyburn is unambiguous, and the opportunity for reform profound. Obama's technology blueprint for the new FCC strongly supports an open Internet, universal Internet access and diverse voices in the media.

The Consequences of Discrimination

Clyburn: Don't let "our" Internet become "their" Internet
"Some of you have expressed a concern that we must be wary of open Internet rules because of the potential for 'unintended consequences,'" Clyburn said. "But the same argument can be made for any government regulation, especially those rules many of the folks here have sought on the media ownership front."

Clyburn was referring to the appalling lack of broadcast stations owned by people of color. In a series of reports, Free Press found that women and people of color own a shockingly small percentage of our country's full-power commercial broadcast television and radio stations.

"If we are all ready to call on the government to assist in the radio and television context long after the damage has been done - really when it's too late - why not when the openness of the next great communications technology is at issue?" Clyburn asked.

Clearly, the new commissioner has opted not to follow the well-worn path toward upholding the status quo, but to become a strong leader for change, a voice for new stakeholders that have long been out of the picture at the FCC.

In Sync with Rights and Reform

On the issue of Net Neutrality the public seems to agree. When the FCC asked for public input on the issue recently, they received comments from 200,000 individuals - running nearly 9-to-1 in favor of strong Net Neutrality rules.

"We are faced with one of those rare moments in time where a sea change is actually possible for groups that have traditionally been marginalized by the structure of the communications marketplace," she said.

As the first African-American woman ever appointed to the FCC, Clyburn represents a change that is deeply in sync with the transformation of D.C. politics that many reformers and civil rights advocates are trying to realize.

Working alongside new FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski as well as Commissioner Michael Copps, a longtime champion of media diversity and universal access, Clyburn has a historic opportunity to not only bring greater access to communities stranded on the wrong side of America's digital divide, but also to ensure that they are empowered to speak for themselves without seeking permission from corporate gatekeepers.

Last week, Clyburn made it known that she supports an affordable, free-flowing Web that discriminates against no one.