The Future of Spectrum Management: Private Property Rights or Open Standards?

Tags: Spectrum Policy / Technology Policy

Co-sponsored by the Federal Communications Bar Association, the University of Colorado Department of Interdisciplinary Telecommunications, the Association of Denver Telecommunications Professionals, and the Colorado Bar Association – Communications Section

Since the Communications Act of 1934 (and indeed the Radio Act of 1927), the Federal Communications Commission has “licensed” certain allocations of spectrum to firms subject to a series of limitations and obligations. In particular, the Commission exercised “command and control” regulatory authority over who could gain access to spectrum and what they could use it for under a “public interest” standard. More recently, the Commission began to treat allocations of spectrum more like private property (a suggestion offered some time ago by the Nobel prize winning economist Ronald Coase), even auctioning it off to the highest bidder. As demonstrated by the recent litigation involving Nextwave (related to whether spectrum is treated as a government license or as private property in bankruptcy), Congress, the Commission and the courts have yet to develop a fully defined model for how to treat spectrum allocations. At the same time that the Commission moved to treat spectrum as property in some contexts, a number of commentators have suggested that, like the Internet, spectrum could be governed by open standards that allow any manufacturer, service provider, or user to share access to spectrum. This “commons” conception of spectrum management relies both on the success of the Internet model as well as the advent of technologies (like spread spectrum) that would facilitate such sharing. This debate, to be moderated by Dale Hatfield, Chair of the University of Colorado Department of Interdisciplinary Telecommunications, will expose listeners to the advantages and disadvantages of each approach and pose the question as to which model would provide a superior means of regulating spectrum.


  • Gerald Faulhaber
    Professor, Wharton School of Business
Judging and Commentary

Know What’s Next