In an interview just prior to leaving the FCC this month, former Commissioner Mignon Clyburn took aim at the agency where she worked for nearly nine years, saying it has abandoned its mission to safeguard consumers and protect their privacy and speech.
Clyburn, a net neutrality proponent who served as interim FCC chief in 2013, equated the FCC’s mission to the Starfleet Prime Directive, saying the agency’s top priority is to ensure “affordable, efficient, and effective” access to communications – a directive it has effectively deserted under the new administration, working instead to advance the causes of “last-mile monopolies.”
Clyburn spoke to Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin during a phone interview shortly before she left the agency this month.
“I’m an old Trekkie,” she said. “I go back to my core, my prime directive of putting consumers first.”
Clyburn said that, whereas some of her colleagues shied away from their role as a government regulator, she had embraced it, particularly when it came to internet service providers (ISPs). “Let’s face it,” she told Ars, ISPs are “last-mile monopolies.”
“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need regulation,” Clyburn continued. “We don’t live in an ideal world, all markets are not competitive, and when that is the case, that is why agencies like the FCC were constructed. We are here as a substitute for competition.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Trump’s pick to lead the agency, has taken an aggressive stance against regulation of virtually any kind, adopting a laissez-faire attitude toward broadband rules in particular.
But a free market approach to broadband seems unlikely to restrain the handful of companies that control the industry from screwing consumers at every turn. The FCC’s own data shows that roughly 40 per cent of Americans have only a single option when it comes to broadband service.
Without practical regulation to restrain companies like Comcast – which is famous for price gouging – the industry is free to run roughshod over the American consumer and small business owners; namely by throttling and censoring online content and services. This is something major ISPs are already known to do, despite all the FCC chairman’s disingenuous talk about “internet freedom” and “light-touch” regulation.
“If you don’t regulate appropriately, things go too far one way or the other,” Clyburn said, “and we either have prices that are too high or an insufficient amount of resources or applications or services to meet the needs of Americans.”
You can read Clyburn’s full interview over at Ars Technica.