Clyburn aims to help consumers, minority media at FCC

Most recently, she served for 11 years on South Carolina’s Public Service Commission, the state’s utilities regulator. At the federal level, she became involved in the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, which pushed for her nomination to the FCC.

“People always thought it was me” who got her the nomination, the senior Clyburn said. “I didn’t know anything about it until I saw her name in the papers,”

He says she has always been fiercely independent and he’s learned not to stand her way.

She says she’s grateful for his guidance and support.

“He’s kind of my pulse when it relates to things that perplex me,” she said.

She plans to zero in on the wireless industry, which she says charges too many fees and places too many restrictions on the cell phones available to consumers. The FCC is investigating both aspects of the industry.

“The rules of the game need to be clear. You need to know exactly what you’re signing up for,” she said. “I am sympathetic from a consumer point of view. Those are the conversations I will not shy away from.”

Media ownership, and how industry consolidation will affect minority outlets, is also a top concern for her. The FCC will tackle its next media ownership review this year.

She is already examining the issue.  For example, she said she would take a hard look at the proposed merger between Comcast and NBC Universal, which would create the largest cable network in the country. Congress is holding the first hearings on the merger this week.

“This is really big,” she said. “How will it impact cable bills in a more concentrated market? Will it stifle voices and options for consumers?”

She has also been in touch with Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, about a new audience measurement technology that some minority-owned radio stations say undercounts their listeners and, in turn, will put them out of business. Towns held a hearing on Arbitron’s Portable People Meter last year.

Clyburn said she’s looking to give the Media Ratings Council, which certifies audience measurement techniques, some “teeth” to make sure technologies are reliable.

“If there are inaccuracies, then someone is being unfairly impacted, and I’ve got a problem with that,” she said.

She used to be a frequent on-air contributor to local radio stations in Charleston, but said those stations have since changed hands and no longer cater to the African American community.

“So a voice like mine and others will not be heard, and the community is less reflected,” she said. “When people don’t hear themselves, there’s a ripple effect there too. People ask why some demographics act a certain way. What reinforcements do they have?”

Only 7 percent of licensed radio stations are controlled by members of minority groups, while only 3 percent of full-power commercial television stations are minority-owned, she said during a speech last week.

"These numbers are appalling, and they show no sign of improving in the near future," she said.

Giving voices to the under-represented is the main reason she supports net neutrality rules. She often cites a web site called Rowdy Obit IPTV, which airs original content for minority audiences online. The founder was able to start the site with only $526.

“Had the costs of access been much greater, however--say if he had to buy his way into priority status on one or more of the networks--Rowdy Orbit may never have seen the light of day,” she said.

"Together we must ensure that people of color -- and all Americans -- can participate as owners, employees, and suppliers on-line," she said.  "That cannot happen, however, if we passively permit a new set of gatekeepers to erect yet another set of barriers to entry."