Who Can Own the Air? FCC Gives, Can Take Away

Purblind Auction” (Review & Outlook, Feb. 7) incorrectly describes wireless spectrum as “real estate.” The government may be selling these choice airwaves to the highest bidder, but who really owns them? Certainly not the auction winner. Not only do the FCC’s rules dictate how the new “owner” can use his winnings, but they authorize the government to repeatedly repossess and resell spectrum without any regard for Fourth Amendment guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure. Is it any wonder that bids have been disappointing?

While you are correct that rules for “open access” and “public safety” have decreased the spectrum’s value, this analysis ignores a much larger problem: The FCC’s management of the airwaves is fundamentally broken.

The spectrum administered by regulators is mired in a patchwork of bewildering bureaucratic policies strung haplessly together over the past 80 years. As a result, up to 95% of the nation’s airwaves lie dormant. Failure to reform this system and truly treat spectrum as “real estate” will handicap the rise of next-generation wireless technologies and jeopardize America’s competitiveness in the digital economy.

Daniel R. Ballon
Policy Fellow
Pacific Research Institute
San Francisco

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

Scroll to Top