There’s a lot of excitement today about a new FCC Chairman being sworn in, and rightly so. But there’s a unique Washington aspect to such occasions: I learned long ago that this town pays a lot more attention to the new arrivals than it does the recently departed. So, in the spirit of the day, I thought I’d take a moment to add another reason for excitement, and that is the record of Commissioner Mignon Clyburn during the five-plus months she led the FCC as its Interim Chair.
Many moons ago I spent a bit of time in government, and I learned that one of the toughest and most thankless jobs is to be named interim head of an important agency. The overarching impulse is to be a caretaker given the many uncertainties, not least of which is how much time you’ll have in the post. The Interim Chair position at the FCC is especially difficult. There are legal requirements and timelines. And sometimes you’re handed a monumental task that defines your tenure, like when Interim Chair Michael Copps had to oversee a successful transition from analog to digital television. While Chairwoman Clyburn didn’t have a digital television transition to tackle, she faced a number of formidable tasks. And looking back on those five-plus months, anyone familiar with the FCC has to be impressed by how much Chairwoman Clyburn accomplished.
During her first days in office, she issued critical orders on universal service designed to move the program toward Phase II reform by next year. One month into the job, Chairwoman Clyburn scheduled the H-Block auction, a necessary pre-condition to conducting the Incentive auctions. In August, she jump-started reform of the prison payphone system after many years of inaction by the FCC. She opened an important e-rate reform proceeding to clear the path for the FCC to act on the President’s ConnectED idea. She oversaw approval of several wireless market transactions like Sprint/Softbank and, importantly to us at AT&T, our transactions with ATNI and Verizon. And instead of taking an August vacation, Chairwoman Clyburn tackled the 5 year old issue of solving lower 700 MHz interoperability by overseeing a voluntary resolution of the issue. And I know she was personally involved in every complex detail of this because we spent some personal time on the telephone bringing it to a conclusion long after most people in this town had gone home to their families.
As I said, being interim head of anything can be tough and thankless. But in Commissioner Clyburn’s case, she made tough look easy, and within months compiled a record others can envy. I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed. And I’m betting that one of the first things Chairman Wheeler notices is the list of issues no longer on his plate thanks to Chairwoman Clyburn.