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This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).

September 12, 1997


In an address today to the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, FCC Chairman Reed Hundt noted that "[a]ll over our country decent, honorable people are effectively precluded from elective office simply because they don't have close ties to Big Money or aren't willing to do what it takes to get those ties," and called on the FCC to vote "to give us a major new free time initiative," that would promote candidate access to the nation's airwaves. Hundt asserted that "being on TV is the only way to get elected to almost any contested public office with a large constituency," but that "you cannot run for office successfully without getting your message to the people by embedding it in the country's nightly fare of popular entertainment on broadcast TV."

Noting calls for free time by the President, the Vice President, and over 68 Members of Congress as well as support for free time among a majority of Americans, Hundt observed that the grant of new digital spectrum to broadcasters "was made with the express statutory provision that this public property of the airwaves could be used only subject to a public interest obligation," which the FCC should define to include free time. Adding that the Congressional Research Service and others have concluded that a free time requirement would be constitutional, Hundt asked whether "at the very least shouldn't the FCC, Congress' expert agency on all broadcast matters, inquire into the issue, make a public record, and issue a report?"

Hundt also observed that the current Lowest Unit Charge rule, which entitles candidates to reduced rate TV air time, fails in practice because "at a majority of stations, political candidates have paid higher prices than commercial advertisers because sales techniques encouraged them to buy higher-priced classes of time." He said an alternative would be to replace the lowest unit charge rule with a rule requiring a heavier, but limited, discount even to the point of free time. "The lowest unit charge rule gives a candidate unlimited purchasing power, supposedly at low rates," noted Hundt, "Why don't we just make the rates very low, even zero, but only up to a certain amount of time."