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


III. Regulatory Geography


Radio regulation has often given little serious consideration to geography.  A recent European Commission consultation put forward questions about harmonization, coordination, and the institutional framework for radio regulation.   The consultation found: 

It was generally considered that the distribution of radio spectrum to users should respond to local and national needs and would therefore best be carried out at national level. ….


Most respondents tend to agree that international decision-making on the harmonisation of radio spectrum should be the rule so as to avoid practical problems at the level of radio spectrum management, but sufficient scope should remain for radio spectrum policy to meet national and local needs.


The public consultation confirmed the objective to secure radio spectrum availability for pan-European radio systems, services, and equipment but this has to be balanced with national and local needs for radio spectrum.[1]

This consultation confirmed the importance of balancing regulation across the international, pan-European, national, and local levels.  The international level generally means regulation developed in the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).  The pan-European level has meant regulation developed through the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT).  The reference to “local” seems new, but as the last sentence quoted above indicates, it is not clear that local (sub-national) governance has been seriously considered.  More significantly, despite dramatic developments in radio technology and services, the consultation shows remarkable conservatism.  The consultation shows no significant advocacy for change in regulatory geography.


Changes in regulatory geography could be highly beneficial.  A Green Paper in 1994 urged that licenses for advanced mobile services be awarded in the European Community “in a coordinated manner and/or at Community level.”[2]  The licenses, however, were awarded in an uncoordinated way at the national level.[3]  Recent financial difficulties have lead to pressure for consolidation, as well as complaints about a particular license condition in Germany that makes mobile mergers costly.[4]  Uniformity in regulation and ownership over a wide area can promote common user experiences and a greater scope of connectivity at lower cost.  On the other hand, governance structures that promote wide-area uniformity can lead to less adaptation to local needs and less innovation in service offerings and business plans.  These later factors seem increasingly important in light of pressing questions about mass-market demands for advanced mobile services.


In the 21’st century, short-range radio communications are likely to be very important.  Home and neighborhood wireless networking has been attracting interest from a variety of community groups, small businesses, and large hardware and software providers.[5]  Pico-radio networks, based on nodes no bigger than a shirt button and very short radio links, are an active area of research.[6]  Many devices – refrigerators, toilets, cars, and perhaps children’s clothes – may include radio communications to exchange relevant information with a ubiquitous network.  The success of particular applications in particular places will depend strongly on local social, physical, economic, and demographic factors.


U.S. experience points to the potential value of local differences in radio regulation.  Federal spectrum auctions in the U.S. allowed for simultaneous, coordinated bids for radio rights across the country.  Table 6 shows the total paid for radio rights in auctions that offered radio licenses partitioning all of the U.S. into services areas roughly the size of states or smaller.  Federal revenue acquired from those auctions seems large enough to attract attention.  For example, in Illinois and Virginia federal auction revenue was about 5% of state general fund revenues for fiscal year 2000 and greater than all state revenues from corporate taxation.[7]   However, in the US, as in Europe, raising revenue is widely considered to be an inappropriate primary objective for radio policy. 



Table 6

Federal Auction Revenue by U.S. State Geography



Total Rev. (US$, mil.)

Rev./Person (US$)


Total Rev. (US$, mil.)

Rev./Person (US$)
















New Hampshire






New Jersey






New Mexico






New York






North Carolina






North Dakota






























Puerto Rico






Rhode Island






South Carolina






South Dakota


















U.S. Virgin Is.






























West Virginia





















Source: See Appendix A.  Total revenue above is $23.1 billion; average revenue per person, $91; median revenue per person, $81.


The more analytically important aspect of Table 6 is the range across states in revenue per person.  These differences are not well explained by differences in the area of states.  They relate to more complex aspects of economic and physical geography, such as income, industry types, land profiles, and weather.  Using radio efficiently involves calculations of the opportunity cost of radio rights in trade-offs across various margins.  Since the costs of radio rights vary by more than a factor of three across states, efficient radio regulation would involve significant regulatory variations across states.


Beneficial changes to regulatory geography depend on much broader considerations than just efficient radio use.  The capabilities of real governing institutions of different geographic scope should be carefully considered.  One should look for hidden capabilities that might be useful for promoting change and consider whether particular demands might usefully promote beneficial institutional growth.[8]   Simple, clear, general rules can promote national uniformity and regulatory certainty.  More complex, chaotic, and localized regulation can promote innovation, participation, and adaptability.  Satisfaction with the status quo might not be sustainable, and less change now might mean more traumatic change latter.  Moreover, as is regularly noted, communications plays an important part in shaping the democratic political process, culture, intellectual work, and personal relationships.[9]  Given such scope for deliberation, any geographic scheme of governance might be successfully rationalized under particular conditions.  This section offers, with faith, hope, charity, and some humor, not a particular program for reform but only some important history, facts, and insights for discussion.[10]



A. Geography Truly Matters


Geographic categories are very important for understanding realities of human life.  Weather and proximity to water have an astonishingly large effect on broad patterns of activity.  At least 52% of world GNP in 1995 was produced in areas with humid/temperate climates located within 100 km of navigable sea.  This area category includes only 8% of the world’s inhabited land.  GNP per capita in temperate areas within 100 km of navigable sea is more than six times greater than GNP per capita in tropical areas not within 100 km of navigable sea.[11]   The significance of these geographic categories seems to relate to effects of climate on health and agricultural technology, and to the role of navigable water in facilitating intercourse of people, goods, and ideas.[12]  Study of economic reality teaches that material circumstances depend strongly on geography.[13]


The importance of geography is also evident across 8,000 years of history in the area now called Japan.  The most densely settled regions in the Jomon period (6,000 to 300 BCE) were also the most densely settled regions in 1998.[14]  Consider as well the effects of U.S. bombing of Japan in World War II.[15]  The nuclear bomb that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima, Japan’s eighth largest city, killed 80,000 persons (20.8% of the city’s population) and destroyed two-thirds of the built up area of the city.  Kyoto, Japan’s fifth largest city, was not bombed at all because of its cultural significance.  The nuclear destruction of Hiroshima did not have an enduring effect on its attractiveness as a place to live.  By 1975, the ratio of Hiroshima’ population to Kyoto’s was about the same as it was before the bombing.[16]  The relative attractiveness of places to persons is a remarkably stable aspect of life.


Personal experiences of planes, trains, phones, the Internet, and other technologies, which didn’t exist before, tend to foster a consensus that geography matters much less now than it did five years ago, or perhaps fifty years ago, or maybe two centuries ago.  But reality is not always what most persons perceive it to be.  Ultra-wideband communication between persons – meaning face-to-face or closer mutual physical presence in communication – is probably more important than any other means of communication even in materially wealthy groups of highly alienated and abstracted persons.[17]  Wide-ranging studies of common property regimes show that local knowledge, local boundaries, and local collective action play an important role in good governance, as does respect for the rights of persons to increase their subjectivity by creating and sustaining local governing institutions.[18]  Moreover, much current governing capability resides in institutions that have a strong geographic orientation.[19]  Some might find fantasies about transcending body, place, or history inspiring or therapeutic.[20]  But in policy deliberations and decisions, geographic considerations should play a major role.



B. The US: More Centralized than Europe


Europe and the United States have significantly different geographic configurations of radio regulation.  Early radio use was primarily for maritime communication.[21]  Maritime issues have long concerned mutually recognized sovereign states.  Such states worked out with each other early radio regulation.[22]   Radio regulation in Europe developed through regional institutions using traditional inter-state mechanisms.  In contrast, within the US, a single federal government acts as the sole regulatory authority. Radio regulation thus has been more centralized in the U.S. than in Europe.


Different federal institutions in the U.S. have historically set out national regulatory schemes.  To cope with interference among radio stations in the late 1920s, the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) established a comprehensive national plan that forced several hundred stations off the air.[23]  Congress required in 1928, “as nearly as possible,” an equal allocation of licenses among five geographic zones; among the states in a zone, licenses were to be allocated according to population.[24]  The FCC, the successor to the FRC, established a comprehensive scheme for assigning television licenses to cities in 1952.[25]   All radio use in the U.S. is subject to FCC licensing, and the FCC regulates radio under federal law. 


In response to similar problems, European states created new regional institutions much less authoritative than the FRC and FCC.  In 1925, European states formed the International Broadcasting Union (U.I.R) to help address interference problems.  The U.I.R. and successor organizations have gathered facts, provided technical support, and helped to organize regional conferences and agreements.   Negotiations have been continual on a wide range of issues.  Agreements are specific, narrow, and need quasi-unanimity.[26]  Interference problems are often not eliminated.  In Europe in 1929, of 209 radio stations operating, 72 were not observing the agreed frequency plan.[27]  In 1967, of 537 medium and long-wave radio stations in operation, 314 were not operating in accordance with the agreed frequency plan.  Luxembourg has been a particularly egregious case.  It has operated powerful radio and television stations transmitting programs in French, Dutch, German, and English to populations beyond its borders.[28]  Europe has not been able to establish and enforce regional plans for radio use as successfully as the U.S. has.


In addition, a large category of radio uses in Europe fall outside the most developed framework for European regional radio regulation.  Under international radio regulations, radio uses that are not “capable of causing harmful interference to the services rendered by the stations of another country” are not subject to international radio regulations.[29]  The inter-state development of European radio regulation thus gives national regulators in Europe considerable regulatory freedom.  Nonetheless, regulation of many local radio uses has been effectively coordinated across Europe.[30] 


Whether the more centralized U.S. radio regulation or the less centralized European approach would better serve the public interest should be considered.  Certainly some aspects of European radio and television, such as the British Broadcasting Corporation, are highly respected worldwide.  Europe also has been generally regarded as the leader in the development of mobile telephony.   On the other hand, the U.S. has developed vibrant local, private radio and television broadcasters, a strong independent content-creation industry, and considerable technological dynamism in advanced wireless services.  The issue is not whether the U.S. should be like Europe, or Europe like the US, or a third area like one or the other.   The value of the contrast is to point to relevant facts and institutional possibilities that might stimulate more fruitful deliberation about regulatory geography. 



C. Barren Deliberation in the US


The U.S. provides a case study in deliberation that has failed to engender, with respect to regulatory geography, serious consideration of important facts, possibilities, and consequences.  About 1927, when the Federal Radio Commission was created, U.S. legal scholarship dismissed all geographic boundaries in radio regulation (but one, usually) with appeals to obvious scientific and practical concerns:


In the present situation, unity of control is indispensible.  Wave lengths must not conflict.…National and uniform rules are necessary.[31]


Radio communication cannot be confined by artificial state boundaries.  It is essentially interstate in scope and character, broadcasting stations being so constructed that purely intrastate service is not only impracticable but all but impossible.[32]


the practical advantages not to say necessity of some centralized control is apparent. … The very nature of the scientific phenomenon made use of in radio communications demands centralized regulation as a condition of its advantageous exploitation.[33]


That the federal government must control the broadcasting situation is generally admitted.  The tremendous present importance and future possibilities of radio, the limitations upon the number of persons who may broadcast simultaneously without causing a chaos of interference, and the fact that radio waves are not confined within the bounds of a single state or nation, make obvious the necessity of unified federal control.[34]


If the air is to be used successfully by radio, it must be on the basis of a world utility, regulated by a world public service commission through agreement of the governments. …it is hard to image a station that will not be strong enough to send a message over the boundary of a particular state.[35]


This legal scholarship largely ignored amateur radio, it lacked insight into the subsequent trajectory of radio technology and radio uses (think, for example, of microwave ovens and garage door openers), and it failed to appreciate adequately then developing European examples of governance.[36]   It foreclosed debate about regulatory geography with vague appeals to necessary implications of specialized, extra-legal knowledge.


Early U.S. radio law formally limited the scope of federal regulation.  The first sentence of the Radio Act of 1912 specified:

That a person, company, or corporation within the jurisdiction of the United States shall not use or operate any apparatus for radio communication as a means of commercial intercourse among the several States, or with foreign nations, or upon any vessel of the United States engaged in interstate or foreign commerce, or for the transmission of radiograms or signals the effect of which extends beyond the jurisdiction of the State or Territory in which the same are made, or where interference would be caused thereby with the receipt of messages or signals from beyond the jurisdiction of the said State or Territory, except under and in accordance with a license, revocable for cause, in that behalf granted by the Secretary of Commerce and Labor upon application therefore; but nothing in this Act shall be construed to apply to the transmission and exchange of radiograms or signals between points situated in the same State: Provided, That the effect thereof shall not extend beyond the jurisdiction of the said State or interfere with the reception of radiograms or signals from beyond said jurisdiction;[37]

The contrast between this sentence, and an obvious, much simpler one, indicates at least a perceived need to describe limits on the scope of the law.[38]  Even to a politically and rhetorically sophisticated person of that time, the natural sense of this sentence would have excluded weak radio emissions unrelated to commercial activity and not generally understood as communication, radiograms, or signals.   Radio emissions that a home electrical generator might incidentally create are an example of such an exclusion.  Many persons probably would have regarded the plain meaning of the sentence to imply additional exclusions as well.


The distinction between interstate radio communications and intrastate radio communications had little practical significance for early radio.  Early radio uses – maritime communication, military communication, and “wireless telegraphy” – were closely associated with federal power. Private, non-commercial (amateur) radio users were interested in radio technology.[39]  Since the ability to communicate over long distances was central to the perceived technological wonder of radio, only intrastate radio use was not an interesting possibility for amateurs.  Moreover, influential figures in amateur radio strongly supported the Radio Act of 1912.  The opportunity to get a federal license was hailed as a great victory for amateurs.[40]  By the mid 1920s, most persons associated radio with AM radio broadcasting.  Most AM radio broadcasts in the 1920s covered multi-state areas.  Few persons in the 1920s cared about intrastate radio communications.


The Radio Act of 1912 was implemented in accordance with this predominate balance of interests.  In an Annual Report submitted on November 13, 1912 to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, the Commissioner of Navigation began discussion of the new radio act by explaining forthrightly what it meant:

In brief it [The Radio Act of 1912] prescribes that all apparatus and operators for radio communication within the jurisdiction of the United States (except Government stations and operators and those in the Philippines) shall be licensed by the Secretary of Commerce and Labor.[41]

The implementing regulations themselves were more legally fastidious.  These regulations observed that the Act of 1912 limited federal authority to require licenses.  The limit was recognized with a one-sentence regulatory provision:

The owner or operator of any apparatus who may be in doubt

whether his apparatus, under [the first paragraph of the Radio Act of 1912], is exempt from license may write the facts to the Commissioner of Navigation, Department of Commerce and Labor, Washington, D. C., before applying for a license.[42]

Less than a year later this issue of statutory construction and federal authority had devolved to a lower level of government:

The owner or operator of any apparatus who may be in doubt whether his apparatus, under this paragraph, is exempt from license may write the facts to the radio inspector for his district before applying for a license.[43]

According to a scholarly article published in 1928, the Secretary of Commerce required all stations to be licensed.[44]  The Radio Act of 1912 produced in implementation little deliberation about regulatory geography. 


The Radio Act of 1927 did not significantly change the statutory description of regulatory geography.  The geographic scope of regulation stated in the Radio Act of 1912 was more compactly stated in the introductory phrase of the Radio Act of 1927:

…this Act is intended to regulate all forms of interstate and foreign radio transmissions and communications within the United States, its Territories and possessions; to maintain the control of the United States over all the channels of interstate and foreign radio transmission;

The Radio Act of 1927 included a qualified enumeration of powers with a qualified statement about preventing interference:

Sec. 4.  Except as otherwise provided in this Act, the commission, from time to time, as public convenience, interest, or necessity requires, shall—


(f) Make such regulations not inconsistent with law as it may deem necessary to prevent interference between stations and carry out the provisions of this Act…


Most significantly, text in the first paragraph of the Radio Act of 1927 merely transformed the 1912 Act’s stated limit on authority into an affirmative enumeration of authority:

…[a federal license is needed to] use or operate any apparatus for the transmission of energy or communications or signals by radio (a) from one place in any Territory or possession of the United States, or from the District of Columbia to another place in the same Territory, possession or District; or (b) from any State, Territory, or possession of the United States, or from the District of Columbia to any other State, Territory, or Possession of the United States; or (c) from any place in any State, Territory, or possession of the United States, or in the District of Columbia, to any place in any foreign country or to any vessel; or (d) within any State when the effects of such use extend beyond the borders of said State, or when interference is caused by such use or operation with the transmission of such energy, communications, or signals from within said State to any place beyond its borders, or from any place beyond its borders to any place within said State, or with the transmission or reception of such energy, communications, or signals from and/or to places beyond the borders of said State; (e) upon any vessel of the United States; or (f) upon any aircraft or other mobile stations within the United States, [45]

To a sophisticated legal scholar, and probably also to some legislators, this statement implied in 1927 a broader scope for regulation than the same statement implied in 1912.[46]  But to the typical U.S. voter in 1912 and in 1927, the plain meaning of the words most probably would be the same.


In Congressional testimony and deliberation preceding the Communications Act of 1934, state representatives showed little interest in radio services then extant.  State regulators cared most about the kind of regulation that was most familiar.  State commissions focused on rate cases.  Most persons in the early 1930s understood radio to be freely available AM broadcasts.  As the General Solicitor for the National Association of Railroad and Utilities Commissioners (NARUC) explained in 1934 to the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce:

The particular interest of the State commissions is in the wire companies.  Radio may become important to them from the point of view of regulation as the uses of radio increase.  State representatives do not wish to surrender the future as to that industry, although the present prospect is that efficient Federal regulation will obviate occasion for State regulation, unless State regulation of intrastate rates shall some time become necessary.  At present Federal regulation meets the need in the radio field.[47]

Jurisdictional distinctions in radio regulation, distinctions with great significance for railroad and telephone regulation, thus attracted little deliberation.[48] 


The statutory limits on federal radio regulation enacted in the Communications Act of 1934 duplicate with further emphasis those in the Radio Act of 1927.  The first section of the Communications Act of 1934 established the FCC to regulate “interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio.” Section 2(b) stated:

Subject to the provisions of section 301, nothing in this Act shall be construed to apply or to give the Commission jurisdiction with respect to (1) charges, classifications, practices, services, facilities, or regulations for or in connection with intrastate communications service of any carrier…[49]

Section 301 contained the words of the enumeration of authority in the first paragraph of the Act of 1927, with only small changes concerning aircraft and mobile stations.   Section 303 enumerated general powers, with the same qualifying heading as Sec. 4 of the Act of 1927, and §303(f) included the exact text of Sec. 4(f) of the Act of 1927.  General powers enumerated in §303 included additional powers not included in Sec. 4 of the Act of 1927, but these additional §303 powers do not relate to the geographic scope of radio regulation.  Thus the Communications Act of 1934 provided no more textual clarity about the scope of federal radio regulation than did the Radio Act of 1927, or the Radio Act of 1912.


U.S. courts did little to encourage deliberation about the geographic division of power in radio regulation.  As Appendix B discusses, by 1928 several federal district court decisions stated that all radio communications are interstate.  These decisions obliterated the distinction between interstate and intrastate radio.  Moreover, these decisions ruled that federal regulation of all radio communications is constitutional under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  Subsequent decisions of the DC Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court followed the decisions of the district courts.  Widely cited cases in these higher courts seemed to have relied essentially on dicta in earlier decisions, and the higher courts provided additional dicta on their own initiative.  Qualifying language disappeared over time.  By the end of World War II, courts seemed reluctant to examine carefully past precedent and the changing nature of radio communications.  Moreover, developments in Commerce Clause law suggested that courts could not use that clause to provide judicial review of federal legislation concerning economic matters.  Despite the great significance of communications to personal life, public life, and democratic deliberation, federal regulation of radio communication devices has been considered an “economic” or “technical” matter.[50] 


Further legislative activity after World War II seems to have been directed towards limiting the possibility of significant deliberation about the scope of federal radio regulation.  In 1968, the Communications Act was amended to include a new §302.  Section 302(a) stated:

The Commission may, consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity, make reasonable regulations governing the interference potential of devices which in their operation are capable of emitting radio frequency energy by radiation, conduction, or other means in sufficient degree to cause harmful interference to radio communications.  Such regulations shall be applicable to the manufacture, import, sale, offer for sale, shipment, or use of such devices.[51]

The text of §302(a) does not clearly indicate whether §302(a) is subject to limits stated elsewhere in the Communications Act.  However, §2(b) of the Communications Act makes clear that §302(a) is subject to the provisions of §301 and should not be “construed to apply or to give the Commission jurisdiction with respect to” broad areas of intrastate radio communications.[52] 


Legislative history has created some confusion about the statutory scope of radio regulation.  With respect to the 1968 Communications Act amendment establishing a new §302, the Senate Report on the enacting bill stated:

The Federal Communications Commission presently has authority under section 301 of the Communications Act to prohibit the use of equipment or apparatus which causes interference to radio communications and, under section 303(f), to prescribe regulations to prevent interference between stations.  Pursuant to this authority the Commission has established technical standards applicable to the use of various radiation devices.  At the outset it should be emphasized, therefore, that this legislation is not primarily designed to empower the Commission to promulgate stricter technical standards with respect to radiation devices but to enable it to make these standards applicable to the manufacturers of such devices.[53]

The legislative intent apparently was not to expand FCC concerns, but to give the FCC an additional regulatory tool for addressing concerns already within the scope of the Communications Act. 


One might further consider, not the scope of the Communications Act, but what legislators thought was the scope of the Communications Act.[54]   The 1968 Senate Report on §302 noted:

An important example of interference to radio communications occurred in December 1965 at the time of the Gemini 7 space flight.  The U.S. Government went into court and received a temporary restraining order against a manufacturing company in Corpus Christi, Tex., on the grounds that certain equipment at the plant, including the ignition system of a winch truck used for lifting steel, was interfering with the communications between a tracking station at Corpus Christi and the Gemini 7 spacecraft.[55]

It seems implausible that legislators believed that the Communications Act gave the FCC authority to license the use and operation of winch trucks because they generate radio frequency energy.[56]  On the other hand, legislators seem to have believed that the FCC had authority to regulate many types of communication, including local public safety communications as well as extra-earthly communications.[57] 


Additional legislative history has been influential, but it does not seem to have much deliberative legitimacy.  The Communications Amendment Act of 1982 was a collection of unrelated provisions, one of which amended §302(a) to include after the words “make reasonable regulations” an additional clause:

(2) establishing minimum performance standards for home electronic equipment to reduce their susceptibility to interference from radio frequency energy.[58]

This amendment gives the FCC authority over a certain class of equipment that might operate poorly due to reception of radio frequency energy.  Of great significance has been the Conference Report’s statement associated with that amendment:

The conference substitute is further intended to clarify the reservation of exclusive jurisdiction to the Federal Communications Commission over matters involving RFI [radio frequency interference].  Such matters shall not be regulated by local or state law, nor shall radio transmitting apparatus be subject to local or state regulation as part of any effort to resolve an RFI complaint.  The conferees believe that radio transmitter operators should not be subject to fines, forfeitures or other liability imposed by any local or state authority as a result of interference appearing in home electronic equipment or systems.  Rather, the conferees intend that regulation of RFI phenomena shall be imposed only by the Commission.[59]

This statement has been cited repeatedly, and rather loosely, in FCC orders, FCC letters, court cases, on an influential web site, and in the most comprehensive recent article on jurisdiction in radio regulation.[60]  Note, however, that the statement goes far beyond clarifying the text of the statutory amendment associated with it.  Moreover, the Conference met, wrote its report, and the report and the law were passed, all in one day.  The law passed on a voice vote that dispensed with reading the Conference Report.[61]  While the Conference Report’s statement is more closely related to §302(a)(1), it seems not to provide a correct description of the legislative intent in establishing that provision.  In any case, surely legislative history from 1982 is weak evidence for legislative intent in 1968.


A few small edits buried in the middle of the Communications Amendment Act of 1982 made significant changes to statutory language concerning regulatory geography.  First, the purpose of federal radio regulation in the introductory clause of §301 was expanded.  The phrase “to maintain the control of the United States over all the channels of interstate and foreign radio transmission” became “to maintain the control of the United States over all the channels of radio transmission” [emphasis added].[62]  Second, the clause describing jurisdictionally distinctive places, §301(a), was transformed into a clause describing every place.  In particular, “from one place in any Territory or possession of the United States or in the District of Columbia to another place in the same Territory, possession, or District” became “from one place in any State, Territory or possession of the United States or in the District of Columbia to another place in the same State, Territory, possession, or District” [emphasis added].[63]  These edits thus provided much stronger statutory support for federal regulation of intrastate radio communications.


Many members of Congress may have been unaware of the formal significance of these changes.  The amendments were passed as a few lines of edits, not understandable on their own, placed in the middle of a law spanning thirteen pages and a wide variety of concerns.[64]  Within the Communications Act as a whole, the edits make §301(d) redundant and heighten the contrast between the introductory clause of §301 and phrases in §1 and §2(a).[65]  The Conference Report described these changes as helping to avoid wasteful proceedings when the FCC prosecutes Citizens Band radio operators transmitting in violation of FCC rules.  The Conference Report also stated that the amendments make §301 “consistent with judicial decisions holding that all radio signals are interstate by their very nature.”[66]


Congress itself had little time to ponder the significance of these amendments.  The Communications Amendments Act of 1982 was introduced in the Senate on August 18, 1982 as a substitute for all but the title of a much different House bill.  There was unanimous consent to dispense with reading the bill, and the Senate passed it straight away.[67]  On August 19, the House requested a conference, the conference met, agreed to minor changes in the Senate bill, reported to both chambers, and both chambers agreed to the conference report.  In short, legislation significantly changing the statutory basis for regulatory geography was introduced and passed in two days, with no deliberation in the legislature.[68] 


Eventually federal legislation preempted even the radio issues that most interested state regulators.  The federal statutory basis for authority over intrastate radio services was strengthened in 1982, as described above.   In 1983, cellular telephony was offered to customers in Chicago.  Over the next ten years, some states regulated some cellular phone rates.  Then the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 preempted, with little fanfare, state regulation of rates and entry for commercial mobile services.[69]  Preempting state regulation of rates and entry for commercial mobile radio may have been a sound regulatory choice.  The point is that it was relatively easy to do.  State regulators in 1934 did not want to surrender their voice about governance of radio communications.   But over time the natural functioning of the national political process seems to have foreclosed much needed deliberation about regulatory geography.


The tension between real needs and the deliberative status of federal radio regulation is evident in recent legislation.  On November 22, 2000, a federal law authorized state and local governments to enact laws prohibiting violations of FCC rules governing interference from Citizens Band radio.   The authorization was carefully limited to specific FCC regulations pertaining to Citizens Band radio.  Services that the FCC licenses under §301 were explicitly privileged against sub-national regulation.  The FCC was authorized to hear appeals of sub-national government’s actions.  In addition, the law declared:

Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to diminish or otherwise affect the jurisdiction of the Commission under this section over devices capable of interfering with radio communication.[70] 

Overall, the legislation illustrates the practical importance of sub-national regulation.  It also shows the national political concern that such regulation not have any legal significance for federal jurisdiction. 


Concern over a possible reduction in federal jurisdiction largely shaped the legislative process.  On Aug. 2, 1996, a bill was proposed in the Senate to give sub-national governments police powers to resolve interference relating to CB radio.  The bill gave FCC concurrent jurisdiction over such issues and explicitly reserved the FCC’s exclusive jurisdiction over radio interference falling outside the scope of the bill.[71]  That bill was redrafted to retain and emphasize FCC authority over all radio interference.  The “non diminish” clause quoted above was added.  This new bill was proposed in the Senate on Apr. 17, 1997.[72]  A bill introduced in the House on June 24, 1999, was similar to the Senate bill from 1997.  The House bill included additional minor edits that emphasized FCC authority.[73]  It also included a new sub-section requiring “probable cause” in state or local enforcement action against Citizens Band radio equipment aboard commercial motor vehicles.[74]  The bill that finally passed the Senate (Oct. 31, 2000) and the House (Nov. 13, 2000) included further minor edits that again emphasized FCC authority in regulating radio interference.[75]  Thus the national political process produced more than four years of deliberation about a possible, small reduction in federal jurisdiction over a particular, relatively unimportant radio use. 


U.S. experience highlights significant deliberative failure in the national political process.  The weak policy, statutory, and constitutional basis for federal control over all radio use has not been considered in an open, substantive way.  Regulatory geography for AM radio broadcasting in the late 1920s and early 1930s probably didn’t matter much relative to the political, economic, and social problems of that time.  But radio communications is much more important to life in the 21’st century.  Getting better regulation requires seeking truth and sincerely evaluating current beliefs.[76]  With respect to regulatory geography, U.S. experience thus far shows little evidence of these crucial aspects of policy deliberation. 



D. Not Whether But Where to Set Boundaries


Private, area-based regulation of radio rights provides another perspective on possibilities for regulatory geography.   Both Australia and the U.S. have auctioned rights to regulate privately radio use in areas defined by federal (public) regulation.  Study of the boundaries defined for these auctions provides considerable insight into the actual considerations that have determined regulatory geography.  The possibilities and benefits that private area-based regulations highlight are possibilities and benefits that should also be considered in determining the geography of public regulation.


To define area-based licenses, the Australian Communications Authority (ACA), a federal agency, delineated the Australian Spectrum Map Grid.  This grid consists of 21,998 “squares” of the following sizes:[77]

…5 minutes of arc (approximately 9 kilometres) on the eastern seaboard and in Adelaide, Perth and Darwin, 1 degree of arc (approximately 100 kilometres) in regional Australia and 3 degrees of arc (approximately 400 kilometres in remote Australia.[78]

The Australian Spectrum Map Grid is a geographic formalism that separates boundaries in radio regulation from all other geographic boundaries.  Along with the specification of minimum bandwidth within a particular frequency range, this grid defines standard trading units (STUs).   Trading in radio rights can occur only in whole STUs.  Private regulation of radio rights within STUs is subject to publicly regulated STU boundary conditions where different right holders share a common STU boundary.  These conditions include limits on out-of-area power emissions.[79]  The parameters of these regulations are uniform throughout Australia for a given frequency band or service type. 


With some regard for geographic particularities, the ACA chooses collections of STUs as radio licenses to be auctioned.  Consider the 500 MHz band, the band in which mobile voice services were first offered in Australia.  To define new licenses in this band, the ACA considered “a population density model, the digital elevation model (RadDEM), existing radio sites and propagation models of typical transmitters operating from those sites.”[80]  The ACA defined licenses about the Australian capital (Canberra) and about the capitals of the seven other states and territories.  The license covering Sidney (capital of New South Wales) also extended to the city of Wollongong, the license covering Hobart (capital of Tasmania) included the rest of Tasmania as well, and the license for Perth (capital of Western Australia) included all of a region in the south west of that state.  Licenses were also defined about the city of Townsville, on the coast of the state of Queensland, and about the city of Newcastle, on the coast of New South Wales.  Additional licenses were defined for the Northern Rivers region in New South Wales, the Central Western region of New South Wales, a coastal region of Victoria, and the Pilbara region of Western Australia.[81]


The geography for the 2 GHz band was somewhat different.  This band is associated with advanced mobile services.  A working paper considering licenses for this band focused on cities, their population, and the geography of city central business districts.[82]  The licenses actually auctioned included licenses defined about Canberra and about the capitals of the seven other states and territories.  The areas included in these licenses were generally smaller than the areas included in the corresponding licenses in the 500 MHz band.  In addition, the ACA defined licenses about three cities in the state of Queensland, three cities in the state of New South Wales, and regions in the states of Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia.  The latter regions excluded the areas defined for the state capitals, did not include all remaining area in the corresponding state, and included some areas in other states.[83]  


The different geographies of the 500 MHz and 2 GHz licenses show that some location specific factors have been considered in choosing license boundaries.  The boundaries the ACA chose about Perth and about Sidney differ significantly between the 500 MHz band and the 2 GHz band.  Other license areas about cities also have different shapes, as do the set of cities that have city-area licenses.  The wide area licenses and the over-all area covered by licenses also differ.[84]  However, the underlying Australian Spectrum Map Grid, which only crudely incorporates economic and population geography, is the same for all bands.  It limits the scale at which location-specific factors can affect license geography.


To define sub-national licenses, the FCC uses geographies based on independent socio-economic analysis.  Table 7 shows the geographies the FCC has used for area licenses.  Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) are a well-established geography that the Office of Management and Budget, a separate federal executive agency, defines.  MSAs, which cover the main urban areas of the US, are used in national censuses and government statistical studies.[85]  RSAs were defined by the FCC to form with MSAs a complete geography for the U.S.[86]  The Basic Trading Area (BTA) and Major Trading Area (MTA) geographies are from Rand McNally’s Commercial Atlas and Marketing Guide.[87]  They are based on flows of commerce.  Economic Areas (EAs) are defined by the Bureau of Economic Affairs in the Department of Commerce.  EA geography is based primarily on commuting patterns.  EAs are defined to encompass, as much as possible, the workplace and residence of their populations.[88]   As Table 7 shows, the FCC has defined additional aggregations of these geographies.  The FCC has also added some elements to these geographies to cover distinctive areas.[89] 



Table 7

FCC License Geographies






Number of Areas



Cellular, paging, 2,12




Rand McNally











Rand McNally
























PCS Regions





Notes: See Appendix A.


FCC decisions provide few facts and no compelling, consistent arguments for choices among MSAs/RSAs, BTAs, MTAs, BEAs, MEAs and other geographies.  For example, the BTA geography was chosen for one range of PCS frequencies and the MTA geography for another range of PCS frequencies.  In the four paragraphs explaining its decision, the FCC noted that MSAs/RSAs would fragment “natural markets,” pointed to benefits of large service areas, and declared “…we believe that a combination of both MTA and BTA service areas would maximize the benefits of having both large and small service areas.”  EAs and LATAs, other geographies offered by commenters, were not evaluated at all.[90]   In 1995, the FCC changed its previous conclusion that MTAs were the best geography for 800 MHz SMR licenses.  It chose instead EAs, arguing that these smaller areas would result in “a more diverse group of prospective bidders” and that EAs “reflect the actual coverage provided by 800 MHz SMR systems more accurately than MTAs….”  BTAs were rejected because they might not “be sufficiently large to create a viable wide-area service.”[91]   Overall, the FCC has treated choices among geographies as a relatively unimportant licensing convention.


In the US, license boundaries generally have significance outside of radio regulation.  All the geographies used in systematic licensing plans (Table 7) are partitions of counties.  That means the boundaries of their elements are county boundaries.  County boundaries within states are set under the authority of state legislatures.  All state boundaries are also county boundaries.  County boundaries thus include boundaries with deep legal, political, economic, and physical significance.  Thus license boundaries in the US, at least initially, are not merely a convention of radio regulation.


The FCC slowly gave licensees the right to partition geographically their licenses and transfer parts of licenses to other parties.  Allowing partitioning does not justify the FCC’s meager consideration of geography.  License partitioning has occurred infrequently.  Moreover, the FCC’s partitioning rules allow partitioning independent of county boundaries.[92]  This means that the partitioning rules do not formally recognize the public significance of any (sub-national) boundaries.  Thus the real significance of county boundaries in U.S. radio regulation does not reflect a well-considered regulatory choice.


Well-established political boundaries should be taken more seriously in radio regulation. Both Australia and the U.S. have a federal system of government with a written constitution that distributes power between the federal and state governments.  The Australian constitution gives the Australian federal government enumerated powers that include the power to make laws with respect to “trade and commerce with other countries, and among the States,” “postal, telegraphic, telephonic, and other like services,” “astronomical and meteorological observations,” and “foreign corporations, and trading or financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth.”[93] The U.S. constitution gives the U.S. federal government enumerated powers that include the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”[94]  In Australia and the US,  all radio uses within a state are not clearly subject to federal power under the constitution.[95]  What is clear is that state boundaries are highly significant boundaries in these federations.


Many radio license boundaries are wholly within important political boundaries.  In Australia, the licenses about Perth and Sidney in both the 500 MHz band and the 2 GHz band are well within the state boundaries of Western Australia and New South Wales.  More generally, the Australian Spectrum Map Grid defines 21,988 STUs.[96]  Most of Australia is covered by six states and two territories.  Thus most STUs must fall within a single Australian state or territory.  For the U.S., Table 8 shows the extent to which different license areas cross state boundaries.  Although area boundaries were defined with no respect for state boundaries, more than 75% of the areas in the MSA/RSA and BTA geographies do not cross state boundaries. 


Table 8

FCC License Geographies in Relation to State Geography


Areas with parts in






1 state






2 states






3 states






4 or more states






total areas












% areas within

1 state






% areas within

3 or fewer states








In Australia, the US, and elsewhere, significant governance capabilities exist outside of federal governments.  State, regional, and city governments address broad areas of public welfare and safety, including land use, local public infrastructure, education, and crime.[97]  Federal area-based radio licenses give private organizations responsibility to manage interference within their license areas and with respect to federally defined boundary conditions. Given the chance, state and local public governance could do likewise.  Sub-national public governance institutions could help radio regulation respond to the particular conditions within sub-national political boundaries.[98]


The geographic scope of corporations using radio is not a good policy reason for ignoring sub-national political boundaries in radio regulation.  Radio technology has an increasingly wide range of applications.  National firms are no more likely to dominate radio use than to dominate commercial real estate.  Moreover, promoting the development of small and medium-sized enterprises is widely seen as a key to job creation, innovation, and social and economic dynamism.  More divided political power in radio regulation might lessen the influence of large corporations and create more opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises with strong local ties and local knowledge.


Auction results in the U.S. show that, in appropriate circumstances, a large number of companies are interested in radio licenses within only a few states.  Table 9 shows the geographic scope of winning bidders’ licenses in the four auctions based on BTA geography.  About two-thirds or more of winning bidders acquired licenses in three or fewer states.  A highly competitive, global industry produces a wide range of radio devices.  Companies do not need to manufacture their own radio devices in order to provide customized radio services.  Radio services are services.  Service companies do not have to provide services nationally in order to have a viable business.[99] 


Table 9

State Geography of License Buyers

(from auctions using BTA geography)


Buyers with

licenses in:

Auction 5

Auction 6

Auction 11



1 state





2 states





3 states





4 states





5 states





>5 states





Total buyers










% in 5 or fewer states





% in 3 or fewer states





% in only 1 state





Source: Calculated from FCC ULS data.



Localism in radio regulation could foster the development of radio services better adapted to local conditions and needs.  In considering television license allocations in 1952, the FCC stated:

In the Commission’s view as many communities as possible should have the opportunity of enjoying the advantages that derive from having local outlets that will be responsive to local needs.[100]

Localism then was understood as standard radio technology delivering localized programming.  Centrally planned radio regulation was widely considered to be the best, or only, way to organize the necessary infrastructure for localized programming.  The situation today is rather different.  Both radio technology and radio regulation now offer much greater possibilities and much greater uncertainty.   Consider, for example, that the U.S. Congress recently passed a law authorizing twelve specific low-power television stations across the U.S. to provide digital data services as a pilot project to explore providing Internet access to unserved areas.[101]  Such experimentation might be more widespread if it could be enabled at a local level.  Area-based radio licenses demonstrate that boundaries in radio regulation can be drawn locally.  To encourage the development of new radio technology and to promote beneficial competition among jurisdictions, radio regulation should recognize political geography.


[1] EC (1999) pp. 5, 12, 14.

[2] CEC (1994), Section VII, para. 7.  Advanced mobile services are usually referred to as third-generation (3G) services, UMTS-2000 services or IMT-2000 services.  The specific advanced mobile services that will be important to large numbers of persons are not yet known.

[3] For discussion and data on European advanced mobile services licensing, see Jehiel and Moldovanu (2001).

[4] If companies holding German spectrum licenses associated advanced mobile services merge, one such license must be returned to the German regulator.

[5] Home and neighborhood wireless networking currently leans heavily on the 802.11b (Wi-Fi) protocol.  This protocol has been built into Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system.  For a brief discussion of Wi-Fi networking, see  For an example of a community network, see 

[6] On pico-radio, see Cameron (2002).

[7] For fiscal information on IL and VA, see and

[8] Hirschman brought attention to these issues in writing about economic development.  See, e.g. Hirschman (1958).  These ideas are also important in considering regulatory reform in high-income countries.

[9] The EC public consultation on radio spectrum pointed to the objective of ensuring “the appropriate balancing of commercial and public interest in radio spectrum policy.”  CEC (1998) p. ii. The consultation found: “There appears to be tension between the objectives to develop new services that meet consumer demand and to meet public policy objectives [emphasis in original].” EC(1999) p. 13.   It is unclear how increasing persons’ capabilities to communicate freely, actively, and effectively relates to this balancing.  

[10] An eminent U.S. constitutional lawyer has recently emphasized the virtue of humility.  See Scalia (1997) pp. 72,137.   I agree that humility is important, too.  Moreover, as a low-ranking government bureaucrat, I am fortunate to have many opportunities to experience humiliation.

[11] Sachs (2001) p. 6-7.  The climate categories are based on the Koeppen-Geiger classification system.   

[12] Ibid., passim.

[13] This is also true within the U.S.   Income per square kilometer in coastal counties of the U.S. (those with centers within 50 km of an ocean, the Great Lakes, or a commercially navigated river) is more than eight times that of “inland” counties.  These coastal counties amount to 15% of U.S. land area but 60% of 1998 civilian income.  Moreover, proximity to commercially navigated water has significant correlation with current productivity.   See Rappaport and Sachs (2001), p. 1, and passim.  Across the twentieth century, U.S. counties also display large and enduring differences in economic growth rates.  See Rappaport (1999).

[14] Davis and Weinstein (2001) p. 14.

[15] Ibid,  Section III.

[16] This result holds true more generally for all the cities of Japan, many of which suffered tremendously from non-nuclear bombs.  Incendiaries that U.S. bombers dropped on Tokyo on  March 9, 1945 produced firestorms that killed more than 80,000 persons.  Ibid.  One might hope that changes in the way that persons communicate could contribute to a more peaceful world. 

[17] See Galbi (2001b), Section III.

[18] See Ostrom (1990), Table 3.1 p. 90.  Buck (2001) reviews Ostrom (1990) and related work and argues that a spectrum commons should replace spectrum auctions.

[19] National and sub-national governments and administrative districts (for water, electricity, etc) typically are strongly associated with particular territories.  Moreover, such entities dominate many organizations, e.g. the UN and the ITU.

[20] On the theory and praxis of imagination, see e.g. Peale (1952), Unger (1987), and Resnick (2001).  Cf. Silverstein (1974), p. 158, “The Little Blue Engine”.

[21] The first widely recognized demonstration of radio communication was by Guglielmo Marconi in England in 1897.  By 1903, Marconi, under the protection of patents he acquired, had installed 45 coastal station, major stations in England, Canada, and the US, 32 stations on board ships of the principal passenger lines, and stations on Italian, English, French, and American warships.   Tomlinson (1938) pp. 12-3.  

[22] The Berlin Conference of 1903, the first major radio regulation initiative, was an inter-state negotiation among  Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Russia, and Spain.  It focused on ship-to-shore radio communication.  For discussion of early radio regulation, see Codding (1952), Chapter II.  At the Washington Conference of 1927, 64 countries, including 24 European countries and the United States, established expansive radio regulations and a table of frequency allocations.

[23] Rosen (1980), p. 128.  The FRC plan was issued as General Order 40.

[24] This law, known as the Davis Amendment (45 Stat. 373), passed as part of the 1928 re-authorization law for the Federal Radio Commission.

[25] FCC (1952).

[26] Tomlinson (1938) pp. 179-212,  Codding (1952) pp. 157-9, Paulu (1967) pp. 13-5.

[27] Tomlinson (1938) p. 181.

[28] Paulu (1967) p. 14-15, fn. p. 15.

[29] Radio Regs, ITU, 4.2 (2001).  This provision dates back to the Washington Conference, 1927.  International Radiotelegraph Convention, Washington, Gen. Regs., Art. 5 (1927).  For discussion of its importance, see Codding and Rutkowski (1982) pp. 273-4.

[30] E.g. mobile telephony, and through CEPT, many other types of low-power, class-licensed devices.

[31] Lee (1925) p. 20.

[32] Zollman (1927) p. 121.

[33] “The Radio and Interstate Commerce” (1928) p. 921.

[34] “Federal Control” (1929) p. 245.  The quoted sentences are the first two sentences of the article, which focused on determining which stations should be licensed.

[35] Chamberlain (1927) p. 343.  Actually existing international radio regulation, on the other hand, recognized the possibility of radio use that does not cause harmful interference outside of a nation’s boundaries.  See above.

[36] In the U.S. on January 1, 1927, there were 14,768 amateur radio stations, 671 broadcast stations, and 583 other stations (transoceanic stations and domestic point-to-point stations).  See Davis (1928) p. 3. Little centralized frequency planning and assignment was done for amateur stations or point-to-point stations.  

[37] Radio Act (1912).

[38] An example of a simpler sentence: “This Act prescribes that all apparatus and operators for radio communication within the jurisdiction of the United States (except Government stations and operators and those in the Philippines) shall be licensed by the Secretary of Commerce and Labor.”  See Annual Report (1912), under heading “Regulation of Radio Communication,” quoted in text below.

[39] Private (amateur) radio grew rapidly on an unlicensed basis from 1900-1912.  Around Boston alone 250 private stations were estimated to be in operation circa 1909.  A significant number of those were asserted to be “equal or superior to those operated by the navy.”  A leading Navy operator was reported to have said that Navy radio stations were three years behind the leading radio technology and that this technological backwardness made Navy communications more susceptible to interference.  The author of a long article on amateur radio in the magazine Electrician and Mechanic declared:

…legal action providing for the control by Government of wireless telegraph stations is at the present time immature and unnecessary.  Wireless apparatus guaranteed to prevent interference has for some time been at the disposal of the Navy Department.  Moreover, any attempt to eliminate amateur stations would simply ward off for a time a problem, the solution of which must finally be found by the scientist, not the lawyer.

See Morton (1909).  Army, Navy, and other government agencies presented private radio as a nuisance – mere entertainment for “amateurs” who interfered with government organs performing important national functions.  In an article published nine months later, Morton was more deferential to the Navy and more accepting of licensing amateurs.  See Morton (1910).  Perhaps high Navy officials, after reading his earlier article, had dressed him down.

[40] See Section IV.A.1 of this paper.

[41] Annual Report (1912), under heading “Regulation of Radio Communication”.

[42] Dept. of Commerce and Labor (1912), Regulations, Part 1. A.

[43] This transition was made in two steps.  In regulations issued February 20, 1913 (Dept. of Commerce and Labor (1913a)), an owner or operator who might have doubts about whether he or she needed a license was instructed to contact a radio inspector or the Commissioner of Navigation.  In regulations issued July 1, 1913, the quoted regulation was issued (Dept. of Commerce (1913b)).

[44] Taugher (1928) p. 314. 

[45] Radio Act (1927).

[46] U.S. courts over that period were adopting a less restrictive interpretation of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  See Cushman (2000).  This change in judicial interpretation changes the significance of the sentence.  For analysis of the Commerce Clause cases in relation to radio regulation, see Appendix B of this paper.

[47] Communications Bill, Hearings on H.R. 8301 Before House Comm. On Interstate and Foreign Commerce 135 (May 9, 1934) (statement of John E. Benton, General Solicitor for the National Association of Railroad and Utilities Commissioners), reprinted in Paglin (1989) p. 481.

[48] State commissioners expressed considerable concern that the Communications Act not “Shreveport” them out of regulating local telephone rates. See testimony of Kit F. Clardy, Chairman of the Legislative Committee of NARUC 70-74 (Apr. 11, 1934), Paglin (1989) pp. 416-20, esp. p. 419.  Benton, the General Solicitor of NARUC, warned Congress against legislation encroaching on current state regulatory activities:

[the paramount concern of State commissions is] that any legislation which may be enacted by Congress by so drawn that State regulation of intrastate communications shall not be broken down or hampered by the Federal law or by the operation of the Federal agency thereunder.

Benton testimony, in Paglin (1989) p. 481.  See also testimony of Andrew R. McDonald, First Vice President and Chairman of the Executive Committee of NARUC 131-4 (May 9, 1934), Paglin (1989) pp. 477-80.

[49] Communications Act of 1934, as enacted, Pub. L. No. 416, c. 652, 48 Stat. 1064 (June 19, 1934).   Sec. 3 defined “interstate communication” or “interstate transmission” essentially using the terms and concepts in clauses (a), (b), and (c) of the first paragraph of the Radio Act of 1927. 

[50] For analysis of the geographic scope of radio regulation permissible under the Commerce Clause, see Appendix B.

[51] Amendment to the Communications Act of 1934, Pub.L. 90- 379, 82 Stat. 290 (July 5, 1968).

[52] Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed a somewhat related question about FCC jurisdiction.  See AT&T Corporation v. Iowa Utilities Board, 119 S.Ct. 721 (1999).  The issue here is simpler because the last sentence of §201(b) of the Communications Act does not apply to communication services not provided on a common carrier basis.

[53] 1968 U.S.C.C.A.N 2486, 2487.  The Senate Report recommended passage, without amendment, of House bill H.R. 14910.  The bill was thus passed and become Pub.L. 90- 379, 82 Stat. 290.

[54] As legislators are well aware, the public meaning of a law’s text is not necessarily the same as its meaning to legislators  (or, of course, its meaning in effect).  Which meaning should be privileged depends on constitutional aspects of communications.

[55] 1968 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2486, 2489.

[56] For an exploration of related issues, see Section IV

[57] Ibid.  Cf. Sec. 1 of the Communications Act [47 U.S.C. 15] which present as a regulatory objective “a rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service.”

[58] Communications Amendments Act of 1982, PL 97-259, Sept. 13, 1982, 96 Stat 1087, Sec. 108.

[59] H.R. Conf. Rep. 97-765, 33, 1982 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2261, 2277.

[60] See, for example, FCC (1985) para. 5, FCC (1987) para. 8,, FCC (1990), FCC (1994b), Broyde v. Gotham Tower, 13 F.3d 994, 997 (1994), Southwestern Bell Wireless v. Johnson County Board, 199 F.3d 1185, 1191 (1999), and Freeman v. Burlington Broadcasters, 204 F.3d 311, 320 (2000).  See also, and Brock (1999) p. 21.

[61] See below.

[62] Change effected through PL 97-259, Sept. 13, 1982, 96 Stat 1087, Sec. 107 (1).

[63] Change effected through ibid., Sec. 107, (2),(3), and (4).

[64] The law is a collection of sections related only by their relevance to the Communications Act.  The full text of the section entitled “Jurisdiction of the Commission,” which comes in the middle of the law, is:

Sec. 107. Section 301 of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 301) is amended –,

(1) by striking out “interstate and foreign”;

(2) by inserting “State,” after “any” the third place it appears therein;

(3) by inserting a comma after “Territory” the first place it appears therein; and

(4) by inserting “State,” after “same”.

[65]  Section 301(d) gives the FCC authority over radio:

within any State when the effects of such use extend beyond the borders of said State, or when interference is caused by such use or operation with the transmission of such energy, communications, or signals from within said State to any place beyond its borders, or from any place beyond its borders to any place within said State, or with the transmission or reception of such energy, communications, or signals from and/or to places beyond the borders of said State; 

As edited, §301(a) includes the situations described in §301(d). 

     Section 1 of the Communications Act describes the purpose of the Act.  It begins: “For the purpose of regulating interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio….”  Thus the purpose of the Act describes interstate radio. 

     Section 2 is titled “Application of Act”.  Section 2(a) begins:

The provisions of this Act shall apply to all interstate and foreign communication by wire or radio and interstate and foreign transmission of energy by radio, which originates and/or is received within the United States, and to all persons engaged within the United States in such communication or such transmission of energy by radio, and to the licensing and regulating of all radio stations as hereinafter provided;

Thus § 2(a) describes the application of the Act in terms of interstate radio and subsequently described rules for radio stations.  

[66] H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 765, 97’th Cong., 2nd Sess., printed in Cong. Record, vol. 128, part 16 at 22132 (Aug. 19, 1982).  The judicial citation is “See, e.g., Fisher’s Blend Station Inc. v. Tax Commission of Washington State, 297 U.S. 650, 655 (1936).”  For discussion of this case and relevant U.S. case history, see Appendix B.

[67] See Cong. Record, vol. 128, part 16 at 21826 (Aug. 18, 1982).

[68] The bill was presented to the President Ronald Reagan on September 2.  He signed it on September 13, 1982.  Reagan tends to be thought of as a president who sought to restrain the (federal) government.

[69] PL 103-66 (Aug. 10, 1993), 107 Stat 312.

[70] State and Local Enforcement of Federal Communications Commission Regulations on Use of Citizens Band Radio Equipment, PL 106-521 (HR 2346) Nov. 22, 2000, 114 Stat 2438.  The quotation is Sec. 1(6).

[71] The bill was S. 2025.  See 142 Cong. Rec. S9555-02.

[72] The bill was S. 608.  See 143 Cong. Rec. S3349-02.

[73] The bill was HR 2346; see 1999 Cong U.S. HR 2346, 106th Congress, 1st Sess.   Sec. 302(f)(2) was extended to require that a state or local government statute or ordinance identify that radio stations licensed by the FCC “pursuant to section 301 ((47 USCA 301)) in any radio service for the operation at issue” are exempt from the state or local law.  The FCC licenses CB radios on a class basis, rather than for particular operations.  In addition, in Sec. 302(f)(5), the phrase “The enforcement of a regulation by a State or local government” was changed to “The enforcement of a statute or ordinance that prohibits a violation of a regulation by a State or local government”.  The latter awkward phrase does not seem intended to address state and local governments violating regulations.  In light of the legislative history, the change is best interpreted to emphasize that the FCC writes the regulations, and state and local governments are only to pass laws to enforce those FCC regulations.

[74] See ibid, Sec. 302(f)(7).

[75] The bill became law as PL 106-521, 114 Stat 2438 (Nov. 22, 2000).  Relative to HR 2346 as introduced in the House on June 24, 1999, PL 106-521 has a few minor changes.   The heading “Section 1. Enforcement of Regulations Regarding Citizens Band Radio Equipment” was changed to “Section 1. State and Local Enforcement of Federal Communications Commission Regulations on Use of Citizens Band Radio Equipment.”  In reference to enforcement in Sec. 302(f)(4)(A) and (D), “State or local government” was changed to “State or local government agency”.   Other minor edits reduced FCC responsibilities to state and local governments.  Reference to FCC technical guidance in defining “probable cause” was eliminated  (Sec. 302(f)(7)).  FCC responsibility to provide State and local governments with technical guidance concerning detecting and determining violations was qualified with the phrase “to the extent practicable” (Sec. 302(f)(3)).     

[76] Seeking truth and sincerely evaluating current beliefs are not sufficient to produce good regulatory performance.  Other activities. such as understanding different views, encouraging deliberation, and making persuasive arguments, also matter.

[77] The earth is not flat.  It’s not a sphere, either.  It’s a slightly lumpy, somewhat squashed spheroid.  Grid cells are defined with reference to the Australian National Spheroid.   See

[78]The ACA has used this grid for all frequency bands.  See the Australian Communications Authority, “Introduction to Spectrum Licensing,” online at

[79] See, for example, the core conditions defined in ACA (1996).

[80] Hayne (1997) p. 189.

[81] For geographic descriptions of radio licenses in the 500 MHz band, see ACA (1996).

[82] RCC (1999), esp. Appendix 7.

[83] For geographic descriptions of radio licenses in the 2 GHz band, see ACA (2000).

[84] Fixed point-to-point radio communications fit poorly within a geographic framework for licensing.  Incumbent services of this type in particular areas have limited geographic licensing.  More generally, existing radio uses have made licensing slower, more complicated, and more incomplete than originally anticipated.  See Productivity Commission (2002), Chapter 11.

[85] For an interesting discussion of metropolitan area definitions and further references, see DOC (2001).

[86] See Cellular Market Areas at

[87] McNally (1992).

[88] See DOC (2001) and Johnson (1995).

[89] For details and citations, see

[90] FCC (1993) pp. 7729-34 (explanation in four paragraphs).  For another example of mixing geographies, but with larger elements (MEAs and REAGs), see FCC (1997) pp. 10813-6.

[91] FCC (1995b) pp. 1483-4 (explanation in two paragraphs).

[92] FCC (1996), pp 21847-8.

[93] See Sec. 51(i.), (v.), (viii.), and (xx.) of the Australian Constitution, online at

[94] See Article I, Sec. 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, online at

[95] The High Court of Australia and the Supreme Court of the United States have power to decide whether particular acts of their respective federal legislatures are constitutional.  For discussion of the federal-state balance in U.S. radio law, see Appendix B.

[96] Hayne (1997) p. 183.

[97] In Australia and the US, state governments hold residual powers under the federal constitution and are subject to enumerated limits on their power under state constitutions.

[98] This point relates to both administrative and judicial decisions.  Legal cases concerning ownership, nuisance, and interference are typically heard in sub-national court systems.  This is the type of law relevant to adjudicating radio rights.

[99] Internet service providers in the U.S. are a good example of small but vibrant communications service companies.

[100] FCC (1952) p. 624.

[101] See Consolidated Appropriations–FY 2001, PL 106-554, Dec. 21, 2000, 114 Stat 2763.  AccelerNet, a Houston-based broadband provider founded in 1995, owns or has an interest in ten of the stations benefiting from PL 106-554.  See