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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

39 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Congress hunts for shortcut to pass defense funding, debt limit combo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to his office Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The scramble in Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is being complicated by an effort to tie it to a needed hike in the federal debt limit.

Why it matters: The House and Senate are rapidly coming up against a series of deadlines they must address before the end of the year — or risk disrupting crucial military funding and upending the economy. Congressional leaders are now hoping they can knock out both "must-pass" priorities in one, complex swoop.

Scoop: Inside Jake Sullivan's call with U.S. hostages' families

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke last week with relatives of U.S. hostages and others wrongfully detained abroad, after more than two dozen families expressed frustrations about their inability to get a meeting with him or President Biden, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Participants on the video call, which began at 7pm ET Friday and lasted more than an hour, told Axios they didn't get satisfactory answers to many of their questions. Nonetheless, they were encouraged by Sullivan's commitment to follow up and pledge to be personally available to them and others going forward.

2 hours ago - World

Biden huddles with European allies on Ukraine ahead of Putin call

Putin in the Kremlin. Photo: Grigory Sysoyev/Sputnik via Getty

President Biden will seek to convince Russia's Vladimir Putin in a phone call Tuesday that the price of invading Ukraine would be steeper than anything he's faced in the past.

Driving the news: Biden held a call on Ukraine this evening with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the U.K., while Secretary of State Tony Blinken called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to offer America's "unwavering support."

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