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Unlicensed To Kill: A Brief History of the Part 15 Rules
INFO, Special Issue August 2009, INFO Volume 11, Issue 5. Kenneth R. Carter, WIK-Consult, GmbH, Bad Honnef, Germany.
The Information Economy Project congratulates Kenneth R. Carter, whose paper from the April 2008 IEP Conference, Unleashing Unlicensed, has been awarded the Best Paper of 2009 by the multi-disciplinary journal, info. Mr. Carter’s paper, “Unlicensed to Kill: A Brief History of the Part 15 Rules,” was published in Volume 11, No. 5 of info, along with the other outstanding articles produced by the scholars and experts who contributed to our highly successful conference at George Mason University, organized by Dr. Charles Jackson.One would think that a paper on history of unlicensed spectrum ought to be a very short. For one, with except for a very minor section of the Federal Communications Commission’s Part 15 rules, there is no such thing as “unlicensed spectrum”. Rather, the FCC’s Part 15 rules permit radio operation on a sufferance basis in broad swaths of the spectrum which is not allocated specifically to unlicensed use. Second, when compared to other communications policies, the history of the unlicensed rules is rather brief. In the five decades between the establishment of the rules in 1938 and their major revision in 1989, the FCC issued only a handful of proceeding on the issue. The commission’s actions on the subject begin to accelerate apace starting in the early 1990s. While the unlicensed rules may lack a glorious and romantic past, licensed operation holds great interest for spectrum policy wonks as well as rich issues for the spectrum policy debate. With increasing intensity over the last decade, proponents and opponents in this debate have held forth unlicensed operation as being either pariah or paradigm. Having participated in this debate numerous conferences and events, it seems to me that following syllogism describes the view of spectrum policy researchers toward unlicensed operation. Namely, that unlicensed operation is for economists akin to what the bumblebee is for aeronautical engineers. As the legend goes, according to aerodynamic theory, the length of the bumble bee’s wings is too short for its body and thus, it is not be able to fly. And, yet it does.
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