Senate panel questions Mignon Clyburn for FCC post

WASHINGTON — South Carolina's Mignon Clyburn pledged to Congress on Wednesday that she would make the Internet and public airwaves as open as possible for consumers without unnecessarily burdening industry stakeholders in the communications business.

Clyburn, 47, was nominated by President Barack Obama in April to fill a seat on the Federal Communications Commission, an agency with broad authority to regulate Internet communications, the allocation of airwaves, public broadcasting standards and media ownership.

During a Senate committee hearing into her nomination Wednesday, Clyburn said she wants to preserve net neutrality and openness on the Internet, that she would hesitate before allowing more media consolidation and that she wants to foster as much competition as possible in the free market.

"We must ensure that all Americans have access to and can make productive use of the communications tools essential to making the American dream a reality," Clyburn said in her opening statement.

Seated behind Clyburn in a packed Senate hearing room were her father, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn; her mother, Emily; and her two younger sisters, all supporting Clyburn in her ascension to the national stage.

Also present were Reps. Henry Brown and John Spratt of South Carolina, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Barbara Lee of California, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Carolyn Kilpatrick of Michigan.

Clyburn was introduced by home-state Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint.

"It's a small state. We all pretty much know each other," Graham told the committee. "All of us who know her and have worked with her throughout the years trust her to be honest with you and to put the best interests of her community ahead of her own."

Mignon Clyburn's parents also won praise from committee members.

"Representative Clyburn, way to go. You and your wife must have done something really well to raise her," said Sen. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican.

Also testifying at the hearing was Meredith Atwell Baker, an FCC nominee from Texas who previously served at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

As nearly 100 industry representatives and advocates crowded into the Senate hearing room, Clyburn said repeatedly that she would seek to strike a balance between over- and under-regulation of broadcast, the Internet and cellular technology.

"Number one, it is the protection of customers, but we must do everything in our power to help spur competition, because at the end of the day, more players in the market will help choices and prices and ultimately consumer services," Clyburn said.

Baker, too, said she would strive for balance.

But their inability to say whether they thought there should be more or less regulation than now exists frustrated Sen. Mike Johanns, a Nebraska Republican.

"I've watched you both struggle with a fundamental question. You want to regulate them more? You want to regulate them less?" he asked. "If you don't strike that right balance, it really does hurt the little guy."

Clyburn now serves on the S.C. Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities. She served 14 years as publisher of a weekly newspaper in Charleston, The Coastal Times.

She and Baker heard senators decry the current state of the FCC, which has been criticized for languishing in its oversight of broadband expansion and the allocation of airwave capacity to emergency agencies.

"The FCC is a broken agency waiting for the right kind of leadership and commission to make it work," said Sen. John Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

"I charge both nominees with doing their part to repair this agency," he said.

If recommended by the Senate committee, Baker's and Clyburn's nominations will go to the full Senate for confirmation.