Spectrum Policy Experiments: What’s Next?

Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing, Networks and Infrastructure and Wireless

Article Snapshot


James Speta


University of Chicago Legal Forum, Vol. 2008, p. 389, 2008


The author acknowledges past experiments in spectrum licensing but calls for more experimentation to encourage reform.

Policy Relevance

While there has been experimentation in electromagnetic spectrum licensing, the continuum used for electronic communications, most scholars have been calling for wholesale reform to increase innovation. Unfortunately, the momentum for reform has waned, but new experiments may revive the momentum.

Main Points

  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Congress slowly began moving a few spectrum licenses away from the “command and control” model whereby the government had sole control over granting licenses and the way they were used.
  • The few experiments that the government made in this area resulted in such unexpected innovations as WiFi and paging markets. On top of this, the greater latitude of these experimental licenses have helped usher in integrated video, music, and gaming.
  • Although the experiments have been widely successful, the government has been hesitant to fully relinquish control over the spectrum by giving in to total reform.
  • The transition to digital television has helped the reform process by allowing the auctioning off of chunks of high-quality spectrum for other services. However, there are still significant restrictions on those that purchase the licenses, which inhibits innovation.
  • Congress, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and the President have acknowledged the need for spectrum reform. However, political action overall has been slow in coming and momentum has waned.
  • Wireless services have grown, but political action has not kept pace. Therefore, the author calls for new experiments to replace the outdated “command and control” model.

    • The experiments should be designed to maximize value by resembling property rights.
    • Experiments should also be designed with the capability of assessing their success in mind.
  • These experiments are necessary to build or regain the momentum for spectrum reform, which will help the law and regulations keep pace with the changing technology.

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