The Spectrum Commons in Theory and Practice

The Regulation

  • The FCC has designated a 50 MHz block of spectrum between 3650 and 3700 MHz as a "commons" for unlicensed use. Several parties have filed petitions for reconsideration in opposition to the designation.
  • This proceeding presents a real world case that can be used to analyze whether a "commons" allocation is any more efficient than traditional allocation by command-and-control.

Our Findings

  • The commons model that has been proposed in the legal literature is not an alternative to command-and-control regulation, but in fact shares many of the same inefficiencies of that system.
  • There is much confusion about the distinction between a "commons" regime-in which a resource is ultimately owned or controlled-and an "open access" regime-in which the resource is unowned and open to unrestricted use.
  • In order for a commons to be viable, someone must control the resource and set orderly sharing rules to govern its use. If the government is the controller of a commons-as proponents of a spectrum commons suggest it should be-then in allocating and managing the commons the government will very likely employ its existing inefficient processes. This is apparent in the 3650 MHz proceeding.


  • The FCC should revisit the 3650 MHz allocation and consider allowing at least some licensed uses, especially in densely populated metropolitan areas.
  • The FCC should revisit its decision to place a "commons" model on par with a property rights model as viable alternatives to command-and-control allocation.