January 12, 1995
Re: Digital Audio Radio Services (Docket No. 90-357)
This Report and Order is the first step toward establishing a nationwide digital audio programming service to be delivered by satellite directly to the American public in their homes and automobiles. By this action, we are allocating at the domestic level the spectrum we fought for and received on the international level at the World Administrative Radio Conference in 1992 (WARC-92). It is a necessary step, which I fully support.
The proponents of satellite-delivered broadcasting offer the prospect of new and unique programming being made available through both subscription and advertiser- supported radio services throughout the country, including rural areas. For example, they propose to deliver narrowly focused niche services, such as ethnic and foreign language programs, which may attract a critical mass of audience nationally, but may not otherwise be economically feasible to broadcast on a market by market basis. Satellite-delivered programming will reach rural areas of the country that may currently have limited terrestrial signal coverage. Finally, DARS advances technology, by making availabile compact disk quality sound, through a tiny disk-shaped dish that can be installed in the car or home.
The next step for the Commission is to consider licensing and service rules for satellite-delivered programming. In this upcoming proceeding I look forward to a full discussion of the pertinent issues. There will be many questions to address. Central to the debate will be the impact -- little or large -- of national, satellite-based broadcasting upon our existing and highly competitive free, over-the-air AM and FM broadcast service. I would expect to see well-researched economic data presented for the record. Through our service rules I would hope to maximize the new and unique benefits from this service for the consumer while minimizing the negative repercussions, if any, it might have on the local radio broadcasting service -- an industry which has contributed greatly to the health and vitality of our local communities.
Among the issues to be addressed in the next proceeding will be the scope and nature of such services as well as the number of individual channels awarded each licensee and the procedure for assigning these licenses. I look forward to a discussion of whether the traditional broadcast regulatory scheme should apply to satellite providers, including any public interest or carriage obligations. I also will be exploring in our service rules ways to reconcile the public policy rationale for national and local limitations on radio broadcast ownership -- which we reaffirmed just two months ago - - with the potential for each DARS licensee to provide 30 to 50 channels of programming to our 260-plus markets.
In the broader context of considering the program delivery marketplace that will include the future satellite-delivered services as well as the current terrestrial-delivered services, I believe that it is in the public interest to facilitate use of digital technologies to improve the quality of existing services. Experiments are being conducted to test new broadcast systems designed to accommodate digital broadcasting within the existing AM and FM bands. I await these test results, and will work to address our AM and FM broadcast rules expeditiously if these tests are successful.
Our free, over-the-air broadcast system is being studied and cloned around the world as governments that once believed in strict control over broadcasting have come to appreciate its vitality. The underpinning of our system is technology transparent -- its attraction is in service to the local community, whether it is conveyed by something called amplitude modulation (AM), frequency modulation (FM), or digital audio. I support our current local broadcast system and hope that our actions today will expedite the radio broadcasting industry's move to digital technologies.
Expanding the audio broadcast market to include programming delivered by satellite, as well as terrestrial broadcasting, has the potential to greatly enrich the programming choices available to the public. I look forward to both services competing with a variety of local and national digital quality programming.