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The use of property as a regulatory mechanism in the telecommunications sector is hardly novel. Since the early twentieth century, policy makers and regulators in the United States have experimented with different mechanisms for allocating private rights in the radio spectrum. In 1959, Ronald Coase proposed that the FCC auction rights in the broadcast spectrum and convert broadcast licenses into tradable commodities. However, it was not until very recently that the FCC implemented Coase's idea. At least part of the reason for the long delay in implementing this seemingly efficient mechanism lay in the public nature of broadcasting and the perceived trade-offs between the "public interest" and private control.

Since its creation, the FCC has regulated the grant of broadcast licenses using the rubric of "public interest." All the same, the FCC's ideal of "public interest" and its conception of what a property right is have varied over time. Historically, the well-documented taxonomical categories of ownership have included the privilege-based model, the "social compact" or "public trusteeship" model, and, more recently, the expansive market-oriented model.


Intellectual Property Law | Law