Federal regulators Thursday set aside space on the airwaves for a new coast-to-coast radio service that would beam compact disc-quality sound to miniature satellite dishes in cars and homes across the country.
The Federal Communications Commission voted to allocate a portion of the nation's radio spectrum for the new technology, which has the potential to broadcast audio programming to every community in the United States, no matter how remote.
Proponents of the new digital audio radio service, known in the industry as DARS, want to offer narrowly focused programs that are likely to attract enough listeners only if they are offered on a nationwide basis.
"We are facing a new era, and that is the era of digital," FCC Commissioner James H. Quello said.
The programs will be made available mainly through subscription and advertiser-supported services. The FCC said the technology has the potential to provide new services to rural listeners, minority and ethnic groups and audiences whose first language is not English.
The FCC must still draw up rules to govern the licensing of the new services.
"There will be many questions to address," FCC Commissioner Susan Ness said. "Central to the debate will be the impact . . . of national, satellite-based broadcasting upon our existing and highly competitive free, over-the-air AM and FM broadcast service."
The new service is expected to require the installation of miniature satellite dishes in cars and homes.
Meanwhile, the FCC looked at a proposal to resolve a controversy in the Chicago area about the scarcity of telephone numbers despite the creation of a second area code for the city's suburbs in recent years.
The initial proposal by Ameritech Corp., which acts as a "central code administrator," called for adding a third area code for wireless phones. That plan has sparked criticism by cellular carriers, partly due to the cost of reprogramming phones. The commission called that proposal discriminatory and said it did not meet FCC principles.