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Public Media Policy, Spectrum Policy, and Rethinking Public Interest Obligations for the 21st Century

In this paper we consider reforms and innovations in spectrum policy that would enable and sustain an expanded public media to better support quality news, journalism, education, arts, and civic information in the 21st century. The Internet has remade the landscape of free expression, access to news and information, and media production. Thus, we are well past the moment when spectrum allocated to broadcasting could be considered as distinct from that allocated to wireless broadband networks. Such networks serve as primary channels for access to news and information, increasingly edging out over-the-air broadcasting as the essential infrastructure for media distribution.

Throughout the history of U.S. policymaking, access to spectrum and the airwaves has been linked to free speech and expression. The public sphere now includes not just one-way broadcast, but two-way broadband and mobile communications platforms. Given this, spectrum allocation has to be considered not only in terms of how it can serve the historic priorities of the nation’s Communications Act—localism, diversity and competition—but also the fact that anyone can produce and distribute media in the digital era. Simultaneously, the demands and structures of commercially driven media are swiftly eroding quality journalism, threatening a core foundation of our democracy. These developments necessitate new thinking on spectrum allocations and the obligations of spectrum licensees. More specifically, they underscore the need to develop policies that support and expand a broader public media to promote localism and a truly diverse marketplace of ideas, information, discourse and content.


Our proposals include:

  • Supplementing ill-enforced public interest obligations on commercial broadcasters with spectrum license fees that could support multi-platform public media
  • Supplanting one-time spectrum auctions with annual fees to sustain public media
  • Requiring spectrum licensees for mobile broadband to adhere to non-discrimination rules for Internet content, applications, and services
  • Requiring spectrum licenses for mobile broadband to adhere to universal service requirements
  • Increasing the diversity of wireless providers in local communities
  • Facilitating community and locally owned wireless broadband infrastructure via unlicensed and opportunistic access to spectrum.

Read the full paper on Public Media Policy, Spectrum Policy, and Rethinking Public Interest Obligations for the 21st Century.