Commissioner Clyburn Warns FCC Is Heading Toward ‘Regulatory Free-Zone’

WASHINGTON—Deregulation is a buzz word at the FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai’s leadership. However, Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn told the crowd at the Tuesday, Oct. 17, Media Institute Luncheon that she is concerned about the chosen path of the FCC’s majority, especially when it comes to localism, viewpoint diversity and access to affordable communication services.

“Change is inevitable, particularly in this fast-paced, technology-driven space,” said Clyburn. “But what is unsettling is that many of the changes we are currently making at the FCC have a one-sided benefit. And the impact on consumers, competition in the public interest, are mere afterthoughts. The FCC is a regulatory agency with a charge that requires us to protect the public interest.

“This means we should strive to strike and maintain the proper balance when it comes to consumer and industry interests. Yet, when it comes to the future of our media landscape, the FCC majority is embarking on a path toward a regulatory free-zone.”

One key point of Clyburn’s talk focused on the consolidation of local broadcast stations. Clyburn pointed out that recent reports have shown a bit of a boom among broadcasters, thanks in large part to ad spending and retransmission feeds, so she asserts that the “horror stories” being shared by broadcasters don’t line up. The FCC majority continues to push forward with deregulation efforts with the stated intent to help these broadcasters, but Commissioner Clyburn believes that the public interest is being ignored during all of this.

“How will consumers be impacted by fewer sources of local news? Should we be content that, of the nearly 1,400 full power stations, African Americans own just 12? Should we not show concern of a single broadcast station group controls local news coverage being delivered to more than 70 percent of U.S. households?” the commissioner posed.

Clyburn also asserts that the FCC’s Republicans are being hypocritical in some areas on deregulation, as it is the commission’s majority pushing for the reintroduction of UHF discounts.

The affordability of communication services for consumers, including broadband deployment, was another key area of interest in Clyburn’s speech. She cited the difficulties currently experienced by some on the Lifeline program, or who lack the ability to even receive the benefits of the Lifeline program.

Clyburn also took another look at the recent report from the commission that said that the wireless market was indeed competitive. Clyburn asserted this was the first time in her tenure that this finding was made and perhaps what changed the status was the omission of analysis on the entire commercial mobile wireless ecosystem, which had been present in the previous six reports. “This most recent report based its findings of effective competition on a much narrower set of criteria,” she said.

During a Q&A session, Clyburn faced questions posed by multiple reporters on the comments delivered by Chairman Pai on President Trump’s recent comments about revoking broadcast licenses. Clyburn first reminded attendees that, while appointed by the president and approved by the Senate, the FCC is an independent agency and that its guidelines prohibit it to intervene on comments or requests from either party against a broadcast station because it would be inconsistent with the First Amendment. Asked whether or not she completely believed Chairman Pai’s statement, she said, “I take him literally.”

Clyburn concluded her speech saying that the five FCC commissioners have an incredible chance to serve the public interest in the communications and the technology space. “By working together, we have a unique opportunity to make better public policy decisions, to spur economic growth and to create jobs as well as educational and healthcare opportunities that all of our citizens will benefit from,” she said.

“My word of the day is inclusion. Every community needs to be included in the great promise that we are on the cusp of.”