Washington D.C. (June 18) – Wireless devices have become a commonplace wonder in today’s day and age. Every day, people all over the world use their devices to stream videos, text friends, look at weather maps or even to fly airplanes. This has all been made possible through the use of the technically difficult, legally complicated and politically contested electromagnetic spectrum.

In a new policy study, R Street technology policy fellow Joe Kane discusses how the wireless communication spectrum works, and then recounts a history of spectrum regulation in the United States and the policy shortcomings that it created. The paper also recommends the application of a market-based lens to a number of current policy issues.

The author argues that for a long time U.S. spectrum policy failed to utilize markets because it was mistakenly viewed as a uniquely scarce resource. However, over time, government command and control of spectrum has gradually given way to more market-based spectrum management. Despite this, vestiges of the old model still plague the system.

Accordingly, the United States should seek to further enhance the role of markets in spectrum policy by enacting reforms like greater license flexibility, perpetual license terms and strong first amendment protections for broadcast. The author adds, “as with other economic goods like land and paper, the most efficient way of allocating spectrum [is] to create a market for it rather than to give it away for free at the whims of the FCC.”