A Speakers' Corner Under the Sun
29 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2000
Date Written: Fall 1999
Advances in spread spectrum and other multiplexing techniques for wireless communications open the possibility that millions of users could use a wireless commons as their infrastructure of first and last resort for many of their communications. In such a wireless commons no organization, private or governmental, owns the infrastructure or clears competing uses, but rather end users coordinate their uses through equipment-embedded collision avoidance and congestion control protocols.
This paper explores why a communications environment that includes a wireless commons would be normatively preferable, in liberal democracies, to an environment in which all infrastructure is owned and centrally managed by either private or government bodies. The paper focuses on a comparison of the relative susceptibility to centralization of control over information flows presented by three competing approaches to regulating infrastructure: a pure private property regime, common carriage, and open access spectrum. I suggest that just as public sidewalks, squares and parks served as important platforms for local political discourse, a widely accessible public domain communications infrastructure can play a vital role in a digitally networked, democratic, information society.
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