Over the last few decades, the Federal Communications Commission has spearheaded a critical rethinking of its radio spectrum management policies. This undertaking presages a wholesale abandonment of command-and-control regulation in favor of new approaches that emphasize various combinations of flexible use, marketbased allocation, and open access to spectrum. However, although there is general accord over the desirability of moving beyond command-and-control, there remains considerable disagreement about how to best achieve this. One extreme calls for a commons-like approach that promotes shared and open access to spectrum, while the other argues for a property rights regime that facilitates welfare maximizing transactions.
On November 12, 2010, eleven academics, public interest advocates, members of industry, and policy makers gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss the future of radio spectrum management. Specifically, participants were asked to address how radiooperating rights should be defined, assigned, and enforced in order to obtain the maximum benefit from wireless operations. From this stepping-stone, the participants identified a wide variety of challenges facing the FCC and proposed a variety of intriguing solutions. Although there was no grand consensus, four overarching themes emerged from the discussion: (1) radio rights must be defined clearly, predictably, and objectively; (2) there is a wide range of views regarding the need to define harmful interference; (3) private dispute resolution and negotiation should be broadly enabled by the FCC, especially with an eye towards facilitating market transactions; and (4) the FCC should articulate specific policies to address institutional constraints and reforms, such as dealing transparently with decisions about the equitable distribution of rights.