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Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt says he favored broadband over broadcast

April 2, 2010 |  5:18 pm

It is pretty rare to hear a former government official talk openly about playing favorites among industries while making regulatory policy, but that is exactly what Reed Hundt, a chairman of the Federal Communications Commission during the Clinton administration, did in a recent speech.

REEDHUNDT Speaking at Columbia University a few weeks ago about the growth of broadband and the decline of broadcast as platforms, Hundt said when he was head of the FCC the decision was made to "favor the Internet over broadcast" as the common medium of the country. One of the reasons he cited was because broadcasting "had become a threat to democracy," although after dropping that bomb he declined to elaborate on it.

Hundt's FCC, he said, "actually did a lot of things between 1994 and 1997" to clear the way for broadband to become a successor to broadcast television. Hundt's speech first came to our attention from TV NewsCheck, a television industry website. (If you want to watch the speech for yourself, here's a link to his remarks.)

The big thing Hundt said his FCC did was "to allow the computers to use the telephone network to connect to the Internet ... and to do it for free. In other words we stole the value of the telephone network ... and gave it to society." Hundt called it "state-sanctioned theft" of the telephone network. His FCC also made sure that Internet commerce would not be taxed.

Conversely, Hundt said his FCC delayed the broadcast transition to high definition, which, he acknowledged, was "a little naughty."

Hundt said broadcast had served the country very well, but his FCC decided that the Internet was a "fundamentally richer medium" that was going to provide a "better way for people to have access to information."

Many of Hundt's team are at the FCC today, including Chairman Julius Genachowski, who served as a top advisor for Hundt. Genachowski recently laid out the agency's national broadband plan, which has many broadcasters worried because he wants the industry to return some digital spectrum, and they think that just might be a little naughty too.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Reed Hundt in 1997 when he was head of FCC. Credit: Brian K. Diggs / Associated Press.