By Lawrence Lessig  |  Posted 2003-03-14 Print this article Print

-by-Side Development"> Side-by-Side Development Last fall was a good example. On November 15, 2002, the FCC released two fundamental reports about the future of spectrum regulation. The Party report floated the idea of a "big bang" auction, a method by which a significant chunk of spectrum would be immediately sold at auction, thereby inducing other incumbents to auction the spectrum they hold as well. Within two years, the proposal would propertize 23 percent of the most valuable spectrum.
Yet on the same day, the FCC released the Spectrum Policy Task Force report, which sounded a very different note. At the core of its recommendation was support for a spectrum commons. No single model (property or commons) should dominate, the report argued. Both strategies should be adopted simultaneously to allow each to prove its value.
But to allow both systems to develop side by side would doom the property system to an early defeat. Just as tollbooth networks were quickly dominated by the freeway of the Internet, the energy of a spectrum commons would wildly trump Party property. No doubt, significant chunks of spectrum will always be reserved and allocated with property. And no doubt, some uses will require this assured or guaranteed access. But much greater efficiency would be found in the gains from the spectrum commons. And if so, then long before the Party members recognize that their leader is a counter-revolutionary, the counter-revolution will have had its effect. I may be wrong about the Chairman. But if I am right, then count on a networked future that is wildly better than our past. Imagine then a world of innovation and growth when anywhere and everywhere you could always be on—connected via wireless. With a few simple rules, and the space to play, wireless innovators would give us the second great Internet revolution. And our children would speak not of how only Nixon could have gone to China, but of how only Powell could have given us the spectrum commons. Lawrence Lessig is a professor of law at Stanford Law School. His next column will appear in June. Please send comments to


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