On Friday, the Commission formally began a rule making proceeding regarding children and electronic media.  Aware of the vast opportunities, but also the potential risks inherent in today’s (and tomorrow’s) electronic media, the Commission is seeking to gather information about the extent to which children are using media today, the benefits and risks of the various technologies, and the ways in which society can improve the benefits while minimizing the risks.  Formally entitled "Empowering Parents and Protecting Children in an Evolving Media Landscape", the proceeding is aimed at building a record to inform and guide the Commission’s future actions in this area. 

Clearly, these are big picture questions the FCC is dealing with at this stage, but with Friday’s Notice of Inquiry the Commission seeks to break the issues down into several areas of inquiry and solicit comment from interested parties.  For example, with respect to the potential benefits, the Commission has identified six principle benefits it sees from electronic media and seeks input about each, including:  (i) improved access to educational content; (ii) ability to acquire technological literacy necessary in a global economy; (iii) ability to develop new skills in the use of technology and the creation of content; and (iv) facilitating new forms of communication with family and peers.  With respect to risks, the Commission has noted a range of potential dangers ranging from the possible exposure to child predators to the impact of excessive or exploitative advertisements.  The Commission’s item also asks broad societal questions, such as whether there is a minimum level of media literacy that is required to participate effectively in modern society, and if so, how do we ensure that future generations gain the necessary exposure to electronic media.  At this stage of the process, the Commission is truly asking questions rather than proposing specific rules.  And in fact, there may be potential issues related to regulation in some of these areas, including First Amendment problems in connection with restricting access to indecent material in different types of electronic media. 

Just as an aside, the Notice quietly notes that the Commission previously released Notices of Proposed Rule Makings involving interactive television and embedded advertising on television, respectively.  While the FCC does not incorporate those open matters into this new proceeding, it does invite parties wishing to update the record on issues regarding embedded advertising in broadcast and cable television or interactive television to file ex parte submissions in the earlier dockets. 

The deadline for submitting Comments in this proceeding will be 60 days after publication of the Notice of Inquiry in the Federal Register, with Reply Comments due within 90 days of publication.  Comments may be filed with the Commission on paper, or online using the FCC’s newly revamped Electronic Comment Filing System.