Not a Scarce Natural Resource: Alternatives to Spectrum-Think

65 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2017 Last revised: 3 Oct 2017

See all articles by Jean Pierre De Vries

Jean Pierre De Vries

University of Colorado at Boulder Law School - Silicon Flatirons Center

Jeffrey Westling

University of Colorado at Boulder, School of Law, Students

Date Written: October 2, 2017

Abstract

Spectrum policy is in a rut, and so is spectrum policy research. To extricate ourselves, we need to dig into the language that underlies the practice.

“Spectrum” is a common term used to describe the wireless ecosystem. However, the term has never had a single, clear meaning. We investigate how the terms used in wireless policy have changed over the 20th century by examining U.S. legislative history. Early discussion focused on radio operations rather than spectrum, and spectrum — when used — denoted frequencies rather than a resource that operators used to provide radio services. Subsequently, the word spectrum gained popularity. Today, spectrum is commonly said to be a scarce natural resource.

We show that the scarce natural resource analogy — while providing some insight into wireless policy questions — fails to adequately convey the dynamics of radio operation. When viewing spectrum this way, the regulator or operator may fail to see future conflicts, and be blindsided by harms that could have otherwise been prevented.

We test our claim that the way wireless policy is framed affects regulatory oversight by examining three case studies: the unexpected interference to public safety in 800 MHz when cellular operation was introduced; the shift from out-of-band emissions to adjacent band interference concerns in the GPS/LightSquared case; and interference with Sirius XM reception due to T-Mobile transmissions in other bands.

We conclude that broadening the wireless policy discourse to include radio operation can help regulators craft better rules and anticipate harms that might otherwise be missed.

Keywords: analogy, history, language, metaphor, policy, regulation, resources, radio, Spectrum, wireless

Suggested Citation

De Vries, Jean Pierre and Westling, Jeffrey, Not a Scarce Natural Resource: Alternatives to Spectrum-Think (October 2, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2943502 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2943502

Jean Pierre De Vries

University of Colorado at Boulder Law School - Silicon Flatirons Center ( email )

1070 Edinboro Drive
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

Jeffrey Westling (Contact Author)

University of Colorado at Boulder, School of Law, Students ( email )

Boulder, CO
United States

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