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Open Spectrum

For nearly a century, radio frequency spectrum has been treated as a scarce resource that the government must parcel out through exclusive licenses. Licensing may have been the only approach in the 1920s, but it certainly isn't in the first years of the 21st century. Today's digital technologies are smart enough to distinguish between signals, allowing users to share the airwaves without exclusive licensing.

Instead of treating spectrum as a scarce physical resource, we could make it available to all as a commons, an approach known as "open spectrum." By making more efficient use of the spectrum we have, the capacity constraints that limit current wireless voice and data services can effectively be removed. By opening up space for innovation, open spectrum would lead to development of new applications and services. It could enable innovative services, reduce prices, foster competition, create business opportunities and bring our communication goals in line with our democratic ideals. And, open spectrum can coexist with traditional exclusive licensing, through both designated unlicensed wireless "parks" and "underlay" of non-intrusive communications in licensed bands. Promoting open spectrum is the most democratic, deregulatory, pro-investment and innovation-friendly move the US Government could make.

For the complete working paper, please see the attached PDF version. A concise issue brief is also available.