The Spectrum Commons in Theory and Practice

2007 Stanford Technology Law Review 1 (2007).  Jerry Brito, Senior Research Fellow, Mercatus Center.

The radio spectrum is a scarce resource that has been historically allocated through command-and-control regulation. Today, it is widely accepted that this type of allocation is as inefficient for spectrum as it would be for paper or land. Many commentators and scholars, most famously Ronald Coase, have advocated that a more efficient allocation would be achieved if government sold the rights to the spectrum and allowed a free market in radio property to develop.

A new school of scholars, however, has begun to challenge the spectrum property model. While they agree with Coase that command-and-control spectrum management is highly inefficient, they instead propose to make spectrum a commons. They claim that new spectrum sharing technologies allow a virtually unlimited number of persons to use the same spectrum without causing each other interference and that this eliminates the need for either property rights in, or government control of, spectrum.

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