Below is text from one section of Douglas Galbi’s paper, “Revolutionary Ideas for Radio Regulation.”  For other sections, see or


Comments and Suggestions Welcomed

Version 1.5[1]




Revolutionary Ideas for Radio Regulation



Douglas A. Galbi

Senior Economist

Federal Communications Commission[2]


June 12, 2002






National and international broadband strategies should include radical changes in radio regulation. Radio technology is the key to rapid broadband development that reaches even geographically remote areas of the world. To get radical changes in radio regulation, a new world-wide conversation is needed around three questions. First, what is a good separation and balance of powers in radio regulation? Second, how should radio regulation be geographically configured? Third, how should radio regulation understand and respect personal freedom? Most persons understand revolutionary ideas that answer these three questions. The challenge is to recognize this common knowledge and apply it to radio regulation.







I.  Revolutionary Ideas


II. Separation and Balance of Powers


     A. Long-Run Decline in Administrative Enforcement


     B. Limited Information Matters


     C. Insecure Radio Rights?


III. Regulatory Geography


     A. Geography Truly Matters


     B. The US: More Centralized than Europe


     C. Barren Deliberation in the US


     D. Not Whether But Where to Set Boundaries


IV. Personal Freedom and Licensing


     A. Different Kinds of Freedom: Hams, Hackers, and Yackers


1. Amateur Radio


2. The Internet


3. Commercial Wireless Services


4. Freedom around the World


     B. Natural Freedoms and Equal Rights


1. Implications of Intentionality


2. Sexual Awareness in Radio Regulation


3. Software Rights for Adults


     C. Freedom in the House


V. What To Do?




Appendix A – Extended Notes to Tables


Appendix B – A Desperate Case under the Commerce Clause:

U.S. Courts’ Role in Determining the Federal-State Balance

in Radio Regulation


     B-I. Case History of the Federal-State Balance in Radio Regulation


     B-II. Misunderstanding Commerce in the Real World


     B-III. Re-Articulating Commerce


     B-IV. Spurring Fruitful Deliberation


     B-V. Doing Justice in Communications


Appendix C – Communications Capabilities around the World









Local telephony is not just about wires, and neither are the Internet and digital devices.  Wireless communications revenue has risen from 5% of world telecommunications revenue in 1991 to 28% in the year 2000.[3]  The number of wireless subscribers exceeds the number of wireline connections in countries as different as Cambodia, Cote d’Ivoire, and the United Kingdom.[4]  Radio technology is growing in importance across information and communications technologies generally, and these areas of the economy drive job-creation.  Economic growth and job creation thus depend significantly on radio regulation.  But fruitful radio regulation does not come from examining implications for local telephony competition, economic growth, and job creation.


The evolution of the wireless industry may create concerns about market power.  Thus far, wireless communications revenue has consisted mainly of undifferentiated voice services.  Particularly in Europe and North America, wireless voice services are subject to growth constraints and increasingly intense price competition. In 2001 wireless data accounted for only about 10% of wireless revenue in Europe and about half that in the U.S.[5]  The revenue challenge in wireless communications points toward either rapid service differentiation or new ability to raise prices on undifferentiated services, i.e. industry consolidation.[6]   But the public interest in radio regulation will not be found in considering implications for service differentiation or industry consolidation.


Wireless technology can bring new communications services to rural and under-served areas.  In only five years of growth, mobile telephony has spurred a five-fold increase in the number of telephone subscribers in Uganda and expanded telephone service into the more rural “up-country.”[7]  In the US, new Internet service providers, small local telephone companies, public utilities, and local governments are using wireless to provide small towns and rural areas with communications services as advanced as those available in much larger cities.[8]  Ensuring that rural and under-served areas are not left behind as communications technology advances requires attention to geographic diversity and to local community capabilities.  But efficacious radio regulation will not arise from analysis of implications for rural and underserved areas.


Economic growth, job creation, the concentration of economic power, the geographic distribution of communications services, and even efficient use of radio spectrum, all depend significantly on radio regulation.  But historically, these issues have not shaped radio regulation.  They are unlikely to shape radio regulation in the future. 

In recent years the telecom industry has experienced an investment debacle of unprecedented magnitude.[9]  How can anyone have faith that industry expertise is the key to reforming radio regulation?  Faith is better placed in more promising sources of wisdom.[10]


Articulating revolutionary ideas about government, persons, and freedom offers the best hope for improving radio regulation.  This paper focuses on non-content-related radio licensing and service rules – issues that are generally discussed in terms of regulating radio signal interference.[11]  This paper draws on ideas from real, significant, historical revolutions over the past five centuries to create deliberatively productive tension around three important but neglected questions.[12]  First, what is a good separation and balance of powers in radio regulation?  Second, how should radio regulation be geographically configured?  Third, how should radio regulation understand and respect personal freedom?


Even in historically propitious circumstances, these questions have hardly been discussed.  Knowledge of centuries of conversation has been absent from consciousness.  In some cases the result has been a totalizing system of radio regulation thinly disguised as necessity.  Open, free, and vigorous deliberation, among persons with no more expertise than a sense for who they are and where they came from, can produce better ways of governing.  Getting right the details of regulation is crucial and requires considerable field-specific knowledge and experience.  But persons who have learned only the most revolutionary knowledge about human beings and the world have much unused but useful knowledge for radio regulation.  That knowledge should guide current policy discussions of radio regulation.


[1] The most current version is available from and .

[2] The opinions and conclusions expressed in this paper are those of the author.  They do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Communications Commission, its Commissioners, or any staff other than the author.  I am grateful for numerous FCC colleagues who have helped me and encouraged me over the past seven years of my career at the FCC.  Author’s address: [email protected]; FCC, 445 12’th St. SW, Washington, DC 20554, USA.

[3] ITU (2002a).

[4] ITU (2001), Figure 2.

[5] In the UK from July to September, 2001, short message service (SMS) revenue amounted to 12% of total cellular service retail revenue.  See Oftel (2002), Table 1.   In the U.S. in 2000 services other than wireless telephony amounted to about 5% of total wireless revenue.  See FCC (2002).

[6] The head of Merrill Lynch’s Global Wireless Research stated that, to improve the industry’s investment perspective, there needs to be “stabilization of prices,” reduction in subscriber churn, and, most importantly, industry consolidation.  See Mutschler (2002)..  McKinsey consultants say the same.  See Isern and Rios (2002), p. 86-9.  Pitofsky (1979) explains the significance of economic power to competition policy..

[7] ITU (2000) p. 4 and ITU (2002b).

[8] Beyer, Vestrich, and Garcia-Luna-Aceves (1996) describes non-commercial community wireless networking.  See also Prairie inet  (, SFLan  ( and Technology Review (2001). 

[9] A Nov. 2001 newspaper article declared: “Bigger than the South Sea bubble.  Bigger than tulipmania.  Bigger than the dot-bomb.  The flameout of the [US] telecommunications sector, when it is over, will wind up costing investors hundreds of billions of dollars.”  See Morgenson (2001).  Since then the situation has worsened considerably.

[10]The U.S. has highly efficient markets for studies and analysis of the communications industry and communications policy.  While such markets should be accepted as a feature of open, free deliberation, they do not seem to have promoted much awareness of industry truth, at least over the past few years.

[11] For those interested in programming regulation, Krattenmaker and Powe (1994) provide an outstanding analysis.  Galbi (2001a) provides some related data and analysis.

[12] Productive tension depends on boundaries, opposition, and difference.  It does not imply animosity or rigid defense of convention.  See King (1963) esp. p. 79.