FCC Leadership to Change Composition as Clyburn Announces Retirement

Last week, Democrat Mignon L. Clyburn announced that she will be stepping down from her position as a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) before its next scheduled meeting on May 10. Commissioner Clyburn was first nominated to serve on the FCC by President Barack Obama in August 2009, and she completed her second term with the agency last summer. President Donald Trump and the Senate will be responsible for filling her seat with a Democratic appointee to restore the 3-2 Republican-Democratic split and thereby keep with the custom that three of the FCC’s five commissioners be affiliated with the party of the President.

During her tenure with the FCC, Commissioner Clyburn was part of the majority that approved net neutrality rules in 2015, and she was a critic when those rules were repealed in December 2017 under the new leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai.

On TCPA issues, Commissioner Clyburn was decidedly in favor of the 2015 Omnibus, commenting that she was “pleased that this Declaratory Ruling makes clear that we will maintain the consumer protections the Act intended.”

While a successor to Commissioner Clyburn has yet to be named, news reports indicate that the top choice – with multiple public endorsements – is FCC Enforcement Bureau Assistant Chief Geoffrey Starks, who has been with the agency since 2015. Starks previously worked for nearly three years at the Department of Justice.

Starks’ current public record is sparse, leaving few “tea leaves” to predict his leanings if appointed. He nonetheless appears to be a strong contender as an FCC insider. At a time when the issues before the agency are increasingly complex, an FCC insider may be an appealing choice.

As for how the revamped group of commissioners will interpret the DC Circuit’s mandates in ACA International v. FCC, for now we’ll just have to wait and see.

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