Mignon Clyburn, FCC

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Mignon Clyburn, FCCWhen Mignon Clyburn, the daughter of powerful House Democrat Jim Clyburn, was appointed as an FCC commissioner in 2009, there were murmurings about the possibility that her family connections and political leanings would sway her vote.

That hasn't been the case. As Politico pointed out in a recent bio of the commissioner, "On hot-button issues--from net neutrality to mega-mergers--Clyburn has broken with the politics of her powerful father … and has made FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski work for her vote."

As her work on preserving funding for the Lifeline program, rehabilitating the USF, and advancing accessibility to video for deaf, blind or impaired Americans shows, the public interest has been square in her sights since beginning her term at the FCC. Rather than doing what some expected and mirroring her father's support for carriers like AT&T (NYSE: T)--the incumbent in her home state of South Carolina--on the issue of net neutrality, Clyburn voted to adopt new net neutrality rules. She also sided against AT&T in its proposed merger with T-Mobile USA, and she refused to rubber-stamp Comcast's (Nasdaq: CMCSA) merger with NBCUniversal until the cable behemoth pledged to introduce broadband programs for low-income families.

Clyburn, who last month was nominated by President Obama for a second term, joined the FCC from unconventional roots. She holds a degree in banking, finance and economics, and her first post-college job was as publisher and general manager of her family's small community newspaper in Charleston, S.C., The Coastal Times. Often, she was a one-person operation, writing, printing and distributing the newspaper in her small pickup, yet she was also active in several community organizations, all of which speak to a depth of experience with the community that she clearly brought with her to Washington. In 1998 she was elected to South Carolina's Public Service Commission (PSC), which oversees the state's telecommunications industry, and served as chair of the PSC from 2002-2004. Clyburn's experiences at the PSC included plenty of work with telecom industry organizations like NARUC (National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners), preparing her for the larger role she has taken on at the FCC.

While Clyburn's nomination for a second term is pending, it's unlikely that Congress will send her packing. Her early reveal of what some publications called "Southern steel" and her ability to work with people from both sides of the aisle--Republican and Democrat--to push through initiatives serve to make her a key facet of the FCC.