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Optimal Abolition of FCC Spectrum Allocation

  • Thomas W. Hazlett

Ronald Coase based his 1959 call for spectrum markets on theoretical conjecture. Today abundant evidence supports his case. Targeted liberalization in cellular markets, as contrasted with regulatory planning of the digital TV transition and other traditional policies, suggest enormous efficiency gains are available from wider use of "the price system." With exclusive frequency rights assigned to owners, markets widely reconfigure spectrum use, coordinating complex spectrum sharing. Resulting social gains include increased consumer surplus from enhanced technological innovation and wireless service competition. A social bonus arrives in the benefits associated with wider scope for free speech. Yet, the administrative allocation system continues to distribute rents and garner political support. Liberal reforms, in contrast, produce large but broadly dispersed efficiency gains and are undersupplied. This paper proposes an incremental extension of property rights in spectrum to move beyond the current rent-seeking equilibrium, eliminating the Federal Communications Commission's centralized spectrum allocation process and, with it, an "attractive nuisance" generating anticonsumer outcomes.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 22 (2008)
Issue (Month): 1 (Winter)
Pages: 103-128

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:22:y:2008:i:1:p:103-128
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.22.1.103
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  8. Minasian, Jora R, 1975. "Property Rights in Radiation: An Alternative Approach to Radio Frequency Allocation," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(1), pages 221-72, April.
  9. Hazlett, Thomas W, 1998. "Assigning Property Rights to Radio Spectrum Users: Why Did FCC License Auctions Take 67 Years?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 41(2), pages 529-75, October.
  10. Smith, Henry E, 2002. "Exclusion versus Governance: Two Strategies for Delineating Property Rights," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(2), pages S453-87, June.
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  13. Hazlett Thomas W & Ibarguen Giancarlo & Leighton Wayne, 2007. "Property Rights to Radio Spectrum in Guatemala and El Salvador: An Experiment in Liberalization," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 3(2), pages 437-484, December.
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