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Acting FCC Chairwoman Pushes for Expanding Broadband Access

Mignon Clyburn - H 2013
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Mignon Clyburn

Echoing President Obama's recent remarks on his "ConnectED" initiative, Mignon Clyburn asks that industry leaders, the government and communities help get computers into lower-income schools and homes.

Washington, D.C. – While it is unclear how long Mignon Clyburn will serve as acting chairwoman of the FCC, as Congress slowly moves toward voting on the nominations for Tom Wheeler, Clyburn made clear in an interview at the annual National Cable and Telecommunications Association convention on Tuesday that she plans to keep the agency moving forward -- especially on the expansion of broadband in public schools and for the economically disadvantaged.

“Most of America has access to broadband,” Clyburn said in conversation with former FCC chairman Michael Powell, who now heads the NCTA. “But our job is not done.”

The acting chairwoman noted that 100 million Americans don’t have modern broadband at home, mainly because of cost. She also blames “digital literacy,” understanding the value of technology and how to use the new digital tools. “We’ve got some challenges ahead,” said Clyburn. “We know that this broadband technology is a great equalizer for a whole host of people.”

During a recent trip to her home state of South Carolina, Clyburn noticed that many people still are not getting the access they need to digital technology. She said this is particularly acute in the schools, where an Internet connection can provide knowledge, including learning new languages that aren't taught in many schools.

“For those who might be in between jobs, who want to augment their income, they can connect at the click of a mouse with individuals all over the world and increase their opportunities for financial gain," said Clyburn.

President Obama, who has been pushing wider Internet access since his 2008 election, also spoke of the failure to put broadband in enough schools during a recent visit to a school in North Carolina. Obama's program, ConnectED, has requested that the FCC help get broadband into schools -- noting the 1996 Telecommunications Act provided such services to schools through its E-Rate program.

The president said along with investments to make laptop computers available in schools, this program “will better prepare our children for the jobs and challenges of the future and will provide them with a short path to the middle class, and as a consequence it will mean a stronger and more secure economy for all of us.”

Clyburn said Tuesday that the president "recognized it will take industry as well as government and community members to focus on this opportunity to serve our children and our teachers to the best of our abilities.”

She also talked about her own path in life, and how her grandmother, who never made it past the sixth grade because of prejudice when she was growing up, encouraged her to do more with her life and to “break barriers.”

At an early cable show appearance on Monday, Clyburn, who will remain an FCC commissioner even when a new chairman is approved, also pushed the need for more diversity in the communications and entertainment industries -- starting with helping women not only be part of the business but also ascend to top leadership roles.