We’ve written extensively about the FCC’s proposals to turn back the hands of time, and return to the regulatory scheme that existed prior to the early 1980s by mandating that broadcasters serve their local communities – in a manner dictated by the FCC. In the 1980s, the FCC decided that it did not need to micromanage the programming of broadcasters, as marketplace forces would ensure that stations met the public interest. If they did not provide the services that people wanted, the FCC reasoned in the 1980s, the people would stop listening or watching – hurting the broadcaster who was not serving its community in the pocketbook. While the FCC is now looking to retreat from this position – apparently believing that the market is no longer capable of insuring that broadcasters serve their communities, evidence that the marketplace will provide localism is now available on that most unregulated of media – the Internet. Tomorrow, the Huffington Post, a website that had heretofore concentrated on national stories, will be launching a version of its product targeted to Chicago and, according to a story on American Public Media’s Marketplace, it will be expanding by providing local service in many other markets in the next 18 months.
This is not the only evidence that the Internet is going local. Local news sites are springing up in many communities. quite often with no ties to "established" media. Micro-targeting of on-line ad sales shows that marketers know that, if they offer a local product, they need to reach local people to buy that product, and the Net more and more can provide that targeting. Many websites, from registration information, IP address or other identifying information, greet users of a site with localized information – weather, TV listings or event information for the particular user’s hometown. Thus, while the FCC seems to believe that that marketplace is incapable of guaranteeing local content to serve local communities, the actions of companies on the Internet demonstrate that, if there is a need for a local service, it will be provided – more efficiently and in a way more likely to provide the public with the service that it demands – if it is left to the market to provide. The Internet does not seem to need the government to dictate how that local service is provided – nor should the broadcaster. Particularly now, with the broadcast industry hurting economically and facing more competition than ever before, the FCC’s actions to seek mandated localism seems to be the wrong solution to a nonexistent problem – and one that will hopefully fade away in the coming months.