The Cartoon Guide to Federal Spectrum Policy

Thanks to the computer revolution, radios are evolving from being dumb to smart devices, which allows wireless networking and communication based on dynamic sharing of frequency bands. This radio revolution calls for radically different government regulation of public access to the radio spectrum, popularly known as the "public airwaves." Increasingly, access to spectrum should be regulated based on free speech ("unlicensed") rather than exclusive speech ("licensed") regulatory principles.

Cover ImageNot surprisingly, recipients of exclusive government licenses to use the spectrum (called "licensees") are furiously opposed to any proposal that requires them to share their spectrum with users lacking a license. Never mind that their licenses are for short terms and convey no ownership rights, or that license-free sharing need not conflict with their currently offered services. The licensees know that exclusive rights to use the public airwaves are worth a king's ransom, and the prospect of your paying them a toll every time you communicate on those airwaves has them salivating like Golum in Lord of the Rings.

To prevent additional unlicensed sharing of spectrum, licensees commission arcane engineering and economic analyses to prove that licensing is the only possible way to allocate spectrum without creating chaos. How can the public evaluate these self-serving claims?

Fortunately, the public does understand the acoustic spectrum -- the medium that human mouths and ears use for communication. This Cartoon Guide seeks to use the public's intuitive grasp of the acoustic spectrum to bring the public into the policy debate over unlicensed access to the radio spectrum.