Geoffrey Starks reportedly set to replace Clyburn at FCC

FCC memberse 2017
The current commissioners of the FCC. Mignon Clyburn (second from left) is set to leave once her replacement is named. (FCC)

With Mignon Clyburn approaching the end of her tenure as a commissioner of the FCC after nine years, Democrats in Congress have reportedly decided on Geoffrey Starks, currently an assistant chief in the agency's enforcement bureau, as their candidate for her replacement.

Clyburn’s second term as commissioner elapsed in 2017. By law, commissioners are allowed to continue serving beyond the end of their terms until their successor is designated or until the next session of Congress concludes. The 115th session ends next January; meanwhile, no successor has yet been named for Clyburn.

Several names have been floated as potential replacements. At the moment, however, Starks is the only candidate who has received multiple public endorsements. Reps. G.K. Butterfield, Yvette Clarke and Bobby Rush are on record supporting Starks’ appointment. The Joint Center, a political think tank, has also recommended him.

Politico cited unidentified sources that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is ready to formally propose Starks for the position.

Starks has been with the FCC since 2015, serving in the Investigations and Hearings unit. Prior to that, he worked at the Department of Justice for nearly three years.

Starks has left barely any public record, undercutting the ability to even speculate about what to expect from him as an FCC commissioner, beyond some assurance that as a current employee of the FCC he might be expected to hit the ground running. 

Clyburn describes herself as a champion for consumers. She has taken pro-consumer positions with regard to communications costs and communications access. That includes promoting measures to help close the digital divide.

One of the most high-profile issues the FCC has dealt with in recent years has been network neutrality. Former Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2015 adopted a consumer-friendly network neutrality framework (the Open Internet Order) with a 3-2 decision that included Clyburn’s vote in support. Current Chairman Ajit Pai recently presided over a 3-2 reversal of that framework, however, with Clyburn in the minority this time.

Technically, the president names FCC commissioners. It is a modern custom that three of the five commissioners be associated with the party of the president, while the other two are from the other party. Clyburn is a Democratic appointment. Congressional Democrats expect form to hold with her replacement.