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Photo: Robin Groulx / Axios; Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

The lone Democrat on the Federal Communications Commission is skeptical of the idea floated by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to replace the agency's sweeping 2015 net neutrality rules with voluntary commitments from internet service providers not to block, throttle or prioritize web traffic. In an interview Monday, Mignon Clyburn told Axios she's worried in theory that a voluntary regime would give major ISPs like AT&T, Verizon, Charter and Comcast too much power.

"You've heard me say this dozens of times, about the internet and broadband being one of the greatest equalizers of our time, and what it enables. And something that important, for a handful of entities saying this is how it's going to be done, I'm a little bit uncomfortable [with] that. I haven't seen anything, but just the promise of that makes me feel a little uncomfortable."

Why it matters: Pai plans to unveil his net neutrality strategy this week, multiple sources tell Axios.

It's not yet clear how the voluntary commitments will factor into that strategy, if at all. While Pai doesn't need Clyburn's vote to move forward with his proposal, she'll play a central role in the opposition. She'll be backed by liberal grassroots activists, Congressional Democrats and tech firms who'll be vocal on the issue.

As the lone Democrat, she could technically sit out of a commission meeting, denying Pai the quorum needed to vote on the proposal. But she doesn't plan to.

"As much as I like good mysteries and good stories and good headlines, I'm just going to say to you that I know I have a job to do, I intend to do that job, I am very proud of the voices and the people that I represent. I intend to continue to represent them. And the rest of the speculation, which again, is not being fueled by me, it's being fueled by others, I'll let them have fun with that."

First 100 days: When asked what the headline would be for a story about Pai's early days as Chairman, Clyburn immediately used the phrase "dramatic shift." Pai has moved quickly to roll back several actions taken by his Democratic predecessor, Tom Wheeler.

Clyburn suggested Pai's policy choices reflected his work with Congressional Republicans and a short tenure working in the private sector. She contrasted this with her own background:

"He's worked on the hill, he worked for law firms who have represented companies, and I really think that those points of view give him, again, a different foundation in terms of how he sees the world. When we talk about particular topics or issues, our differences often come, I think, again, from our experiences. My parents met in jail fighting for equity and parity in this country. His experiences are different from that."

In response, a spokesman for Pai said, "Chairman Pai's parents came to this country from India with little more than a radio and ten dollars in their pocket. And while neither of them is a prominent public figure, he is enormously proud of their immigrant story." A spokesman for Clyburn later said there was no intent to compare parental backgrounds but explain how her own parents' experiences have informed her work on issues such as Lifeline and inmate calling reform.

Go deeper

Updated 3 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Senators grill top Pentagon leaders over Biden's Afghanistan exit

Photo: Carolone Brehman/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, and the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, are testifying before Congress for the first time since the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The latest: Austin said in his opening statement that military leaders began planning for a non-combatant evacuation of Kabul as early as the spring, and that this is the only reason U.S. troops were able to start the operation so quickly when the Taliban captured the city. "Was it perfect? Of course not," Austin acknowledged.

Congress must raise the debt limit by Oct. 18, Yellen warns

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during a press conference at the Capitol on Sept. 23. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a letter Tuesday that the United States will likely begin to default on its loans shortly after Oct. 18 if Congress fails to raise or suspend the debt ceiling by then.

Why it matters: The U.S. has never defaulted on its financial obligations, and Yellen has previously warned that doing so would cause irreparable damage to the U.S. economy and global financial markets.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
35 mins ago - Energy & Environment

The energy crises roiling Europe and China — and beyond

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Energy crises in Europe and China are spilling into economic forecasts, supply chains and beyond.

Driving the news: Europe has for weeks been facing sky-high natural gas and power prices, while China — the world's second-largest economy — is facing electricity shortages that are hobbling factories.

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