On March 4, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hosted a day-long workshop as part of its Future of Media project. The goal of the March 4 workshop was to examine whether, and to what extent, it should regulate the digital media to best serve the public's interest in the free flow of local news and information. After introductory remarks by Commissioners Copps and Clyburn, as well as Steven Waldman, senior advisor to Chairman Genachowski, workshop attendees heard prepared remarks and directed discussions from three panels made up of industry representatives, public interest advocates, academics and FCC staff.

The workshop opened with a discussion of the history of U.S. media policy. Panelists discussed regulatory actions that ranged from postal rate regulations that subsidized the wide distribution of newspapers beginning in the late 18th century to the FCC's deregulation of the broadcast industry in the 1980s.

The workshop's second panel attempted to address the general question of whether commercial broadcasters are serving the public interest and providing their audiences with important local news and information. Representatives of frequently antagonistic constituencies (e.g., broadcasters, journalists and public interest advocates) made up this panel, and so the views on whether broadcasters have been good stewards of the public's interest varied widely.

The workshop's third panel focused on the future, and panelists were asked to speak about the policy implications of the rapid digitalization of the media. Rather than focusing on ways in which the FCC could attempt to regulate service of the public interest, the members of this panel focused on possible structural and market-based mechanisms that would provide incentives for content producers, distributors and aggregators to create and disseminate information in a manner that efficiently serves the public interest.

The FCC plans to hold additional workshops to address other issues, such as the role of noncommercial educational media, identified in its January 21, 2010 Public Notice initiating the Future of Media Project.