The Question of Spectrum: Technology, Management, and Regime Change
AbstractThere is general agreement that the traditional command-and-control regulation of radio spectrum by the FCC (and NTIA) has failed. There is no general agreement on which regime should succeed it. Property rights advocates take Ronald Coase's advice that spectrum licenses should be sold off and traded in secondary markets, like any other assets. Commons advocates argue that new technologies cannot be accommodated by a licensing regime (either traditional or property rights) and that a commons regime leads to the most efficient means to deliver useful spectrum to the American public. This article reviews the scholarly history of this controversy, outlines the revolution of FCC thinking, and parses the question of property rights vs. commons into four distinct parts: new technology, spectrum uses, spectrum management, and the overarching legal regime. Advocates on both sides find much to agree about on the first three factors; the disagreement is focused on the choice of overarching regime to most efficiently and effectively make spectrum and its applications available to the American public. There are two feasible regime choices: a property rights regime and a mixed licensed/commons regime subject to regulation. The regime choice depends upon four factors: dispute resolution, transactions costs, tragedies of the commons and anticommons, and flexibility to changing technologies and demands. Each regime is described and analyzed against these four factors. With regard to pure transactions costs, commons may hold an advantage but it appears quite small. For all other factors, the property rights regime holds very substantial advantages relative to the mixed regime. I conclude that the choice comes down to markets vs. regulation as mechanism for allocating resources.
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Date of creation: Aug 2005
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- Faulhaber, Gerald R., 2006. "The future of wireless telecommunications: Spectrum as a critical resource," Information Economics and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 256-271, September.
- Freyens, Benoît, 2009. "A policy spectrum for spectrum economics," Information Economics and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 128-144, June.
- Fulvio Minervini & Diego Piacentino, 2007. "Spectrum Management and Regulation: Towards a Full-Fledged Market for Spectrum Bands?," Working Papers 07-2007, Macerata University, Department of Studies on Economic Development (DiSSE), revised Nov 2008.
- Minervini, Fulvio, 2007. "Emerging Technologies and Access to Spectrum Resources: the Case of Short-Range Systems," MPRA Paper 6786, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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