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Mignon Clyburn, net neutrality backer, to depart FCC

An outspoken champion of consumer causes, the two-term commissioner also pushed for a more open internet and for prison inmate calling reform.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read
FCC Holds Vote On Repeal Of Net Neutrality Rules

FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly (third from left) speaks as Mignon Clyburn (left), Chairman Ajit Pai and  Jessica Rosenworcel listen during a meeting in December. 

Alex Wong / Getty Images

Democrat Mignon Clyburn, a leading defender of net neutrality, announced Tuesday she will be stepping down from the Federal Communications Commission in the next month, ending an eight-year stint at the agency.

Clyburn announced her departure at the FCC's April meeting and said she'd step down before the agency's next scheduled meeting on May 10.

"I've done all I know to do. And it's time for me to serve in another way," she said.

Appointed as a commissioner by President Barack Obama in 2009, Clyburn was in the majority when the FCC passed its 2015 net neutrality rules. She's been a staunch defender of the rules and opposed the current Republican-led repeal of the rules in December.

Clyburn is the first African-American woman to serve on the FCC. She is also the first woman to chair the agency, a position she held from May 2013 until October that year when President Obama appointed Tom Wheeler as chairman. CNET included her in its first list of notable women in tech to celebrate International Women's Day this year. Clyburn was one of 43 women highlighted who have made a difference in their particular field of technology.

As a former public utility commissioner for South Carolina and a publisher and editor of a weekly newspaper serving the African American community of Charleston, she has long championed consumer causes and promoted diversity in media. While serving on the FCC, she's been an outspoken supporter of reforming prison inmate calling services. She pushed to modernize and protect the FCC's Lifeline program, which subsidizes the cost of phone and broadband service for poor and disabled Americans. She's also advocated for enhanced accessibility in communications for the disability community. And she's pushed for media ownership rules that reflect the demographics of America.

Clyburn's second term on the FCC ended last summer, so she was required to leave before the end of the year.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already recommended Geoffrey Starks, an assistant chief in the FCC's enforcement bureau, to the White House to fill Clyburn's seat when she departs, Politico reported last month. FCC commissioners from the opposing party are traditionally chosen by the Senate minority leader. 

Clyburn was well-liked and respected by lawmakers, colleagues and representatives from the industries she helped regulate.  And many have wished her well for the future.

"Commissioner Clyburn has served the American people with integrity, distinction, and compassion during her nearly nine years at the Commission, and she will be deeply missed," Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said in a statement. "Mignon is a voice for the voiceless, always defending the most vulnerable in our society to ensure they are protected against the special interests."

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who leads the Republican majority on the commission, called her a tremendous leader and public servant. And said she's been a "wonderful colleague and friend."

"As the first woman to head the agency, she led skillfully through a transition and put her on stamp on the Commission," he said in a statement. "I have enjoyed working with her and, even when we have not seen eye-to-eye on policy, I have always held her candor and thoughtfulness in the highest regard."  

CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker commended Clyburn for her deep understanding of the wireless market.

"She has been a steadfast advocate for harnessing the power of wireless to help diverse communities," she said in a statement.

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