On Tuesday, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn ended months of speculation about her future at the FCC, announcing during the agency’s April open meeting that she will resign from her FCC seat prior to the FCC’s next monthly open meeting scheduled on May 10.
Clyburn—a Democrat who has served at the FCC since 2009—became the first woman to lead the agency when she stepped up for a six-month period in 2013 as interim chairwoman between the tenures of former FCC chairmen Julius Genochowski and Tom Wheeler. Although Clyburn’s current term expired in June 2017, she has retained her FCC seat pursuant to Communications Act provisions which allow FCC commissioners to remain in service at the agency through the end of the current congressional term or whenever a successor is confirmed, whichever comes first. Upon Clyburn’s departure, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel would be left as the sole Democrat on a reduced panel of four FCC members that includes FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and fellow Republican commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr. It is unclear when the White House will name a Democratic nominee for Clyburn’s seat although observers indicate that the names of assistant FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Geoffrey Starks and Senate Commerce Committee senior minority counsel John Branscome have already been floated among Senate lawmakers as potential candidates.
In remarks at Tuesday’s open meeting, Clyburn acknowledged that she doesn’t “have a path laid out” in terms of her future plans. Meanwhile, praise poured in for Clyburn’s service from her FCC colleagues, members of Congress and from major players throughout the telecommunications, cable and broadcast industries. Although Clyburn has lately made headlines as a staunch opponent of the FCC Republican majority’s efforts to roll back Title II classification of broadband services and various other policies instituted by Pai’s predecessor, former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Pai lauded Clyburn as “a tremendous leader and a committed public servant throughout her time here.” While Rosenworcel described Clyburn as “a forceful advocate for change, for equal opportunity, and for closing the digital divide,” O’Rielly remarked that, “even when we disagreed, we found a way to work through it and get to the next issue.” Thanking Clyburn for her service, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) declared that Clyburn’s “commitment to defending net neutrality, protecting the Lifeline program, lowering prison phone rates, and so many other critical consumer protection programs has benefitted millions of American families.” As AT&T executive vice president Joan Marsh agreed that Clyburn “leaves a tremendous legacy at the Commission of helping Americans most in need and bringing a voice to those who are often overlooked,” Michael Powell, the president of Internet and television association NCTA proclaimed: “the American public owes a debt of gratitude to Mignon Clyburn for her eight years of service at the FCC.”