Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is stepping down after 8 years at the FCC

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is stepping down from the FCC after eight years on the job. She broke the news at the Commission’s monthly open meeting, confirming the plans to move on that she has mentioned occasionally since the new administration took over.

I realize I don’t sound like the impartial journalist that I should be when I say this, since I cover the FCC closely, but I will very much miss the presence of Commissioner Clyburn there. (And I’m not the only one; my inbox is filling up with groups and individuals issuing thank you statements. I’ll add some to this post later.)

Regardless of what one’s position is on things like net neutrality, broadband access, media regulation and so on, Clyburn always brings a note of humanity and common sense to the discussion. Her commentary, though technically and legally sound, is rarely technical or legal in nature, instead focused on the human cost or benefit of a proposal or decision — but made her point nevertheless.

That’s no mean accomplishment in a business where a decade-long conflict can be fueled by the definitions of a handful of words or legal distinctions finer than most people can comprehend. All the FCC Commissioners are intelligent and accomplished people (and I mean that), but Clyburn is unique among them.

Her concurring statements were always cheerful and gracious (though often cautious regarding certain aspects of a proposal) and her dissents were fiery and unsparing; you can read some choice words on the controversial net neutrality order here.

You can tell a lot about a person by the issues they decide to take a stand on, and for Clyburn they were humanitarian: investigating and exposing companies taking advantage of inmates, for instance, or defending programs that primarily benefit the poorest and least powerful in the nation. And of course she was instrumental in creating 2015 net neutrality rules (RIP).

I’ve spoken with her myself a few times, and once onstage at Disrupt NY, and have always been struck by her straightforward passion for helping people. It’s reassuring to experience that with an official of her stature.

I write this like it’s a eulogy, but really, Commissioner Clyburn will almost certainly go on to do more interesting things and help more people; other former Commissioners have certainly done so and are still influential in different ways — at nonprofits, in local government and so on. That said, it’s sad to see a staunch advocate for social good, and a woman of color as well, leaving an important federal office.

“It’s time for me to serve in another way,” Clyburn said at the meeting. I look forward to finding out what way that is.

(On a practical note: When Clyburn leaves, sometime in the next couple of weeks, her position will be open until the current administration nominates someone to the position and they are confirmed by Congress. Given how long it took them to get Commissioner Rosenworcel back in action, this could take some time, especially as, like before, it will be 3 on 1 in the meantime.)