Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-m8s7h Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-18T19:56:40.374Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Spectrum anarchy: why self-governance of the radio spectrum works better than we think

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 June 2020

Pedro Bustamante*
School of Computing and Information, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Marcela Gomez
School of Computing and Information, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Ilia Murtazashvili
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Martin Weiss
School of Computing and Information, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:


The exploitation of radio-electric spectrum bands for wireless transmission purposes has some features of the commons: it is subject to congestion and conflict without rules governing its use. The Coasean approach is to assign private property rights to overcome the tragedy of the spectrum commons. The process of assigning these rights is still centralized, with governments assigning property rights through agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the USA. We consider the possibility of self-governance of the spectrum. We use insights from the study of common pool resources governance to analyze the emergence of property rights to spectrum in a ‘government-less’ environment in which norms, rules, and enforcement mechanisms are solely the product of the repeated interactions among participants in the network. Our case study considers the spectrum-sharing arrangement in the 1,695–1,710 MHz band. Using agent-based modeling (ABM), we show that self-governance of the spectrum can work and under what conditions it is likely to improve the efficiency of the allocation of property rights.

Research Article
Copyright © Millennium Economics Ltd 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Agrawal, A. and Ostrom, E. (2001), ‘Collective Action, Property Rights, and Decentralization in Resource use in India and Nepal’, Politics & Society, 29(4): 485514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Alchian, A. A. (1965), ‘Some Economics of Property Rights’, Il Politico, 816829.Google Scholar
Alchian, A. A. and Demsetz, H. (1972), ‘Production, Information Costs, and Economic Organization’, The American Economic Review, 62(5): 777795.Google Scholar
Allen, D. W. (2015), ‘The Coase Theorem: Coherent, Logical, and Not Disproved’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 11(2): 379390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Allingham, M. G. and Sandmo, A. (1972), ‘Income tax Evasion: A Theoretical Analysis’, Journal of Public Economics, 1(3–4): 323338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Altamimi, M., Weiss, M. B. H. and McHenry, M. (2013), ‘Enforcement and spectrum Sharing: Case Studies of Federal-Commercial Sharing’, Available at SSRN, 43(1): 2310883Google Scholar
Anderson, T. L. and Hill, P. J. (2004), The Not So Wild, Wild West: Property Rights on the Frontier, Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.Google ScholarPubMed
Badham, J. (2015), ‘Review of an Introduction to Agent-Based Modeling: Modeling Natural, Social, and Engineered Complex Systems with NETLogo’, Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 18(4): 7781Google Scholar
Bazelon, D. L. (1975), ‘FCC regulation of the Telecommunications Press’, Duke Law Journal, 1975(2): 213251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bernstein, L. (1992), ‘Opting out of the Legal System: Extralegal Contractual Relations in the Diamond Industry’, The Journal of Legal Studies, 21(1): 115157.Google Scholar
Bhattarai, S., Park, J.-M. J., Lehr, W. and Gao, B. (2017), ‘TESSO: An Analytical Tool for Characterizing Aggregate Interference and Enabling Spatial Spectrum Sharing’, In Dynamic Spectrum Access Networks (DySPAN), 2017 IEEE International Symposium on, pp. 110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bhattarai, S., Ullah, A., Park, J.-M. J., Reed, J. H., Gurney, D. and Gao, B. (2015), ‘Defining Incumbent Protection Zones on the fly: Dynamic Boundaries for Spectrum Sharing’, In Dynamic Spectrum Access Networks (DySPAN), 2015 IEEE International Symposium on, pp. 251262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bloomquist, K. M. (2004), ‘Multi-Agent Based Simulation of the Deterrent Effects of Taxpayer Audits’, In Proceedings of the Annual Conference on Taxation and Minutes of the Annual Meeting of the National Tax Association, Vol. 97, pp. 159173.Google Scholar
Boettke, P. J. and Coyne, C. J. (2005), ‘Methodological Individualism, Spontaneous Order and the Research Program of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis’, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 57(2): 145158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bustamante, P., Gomez, M., Weiss, M. B. H., T. Znati, J. M. Park, D. Das, Rose, J. S. (2018), ‘Agent-Based Modelling Approach for Developing Enforcement Mechanisms in Spectrum Sharing Scenarios: An application for the 1695–1710 MHz band’, In 46th Telecommunications and Policy Research Conference.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Coase, R. H. (1960), ‘The Problem of Social Cost’, In Classic Papers in Natural Resource Economics, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 87137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Coase, R. H. (1966), ‘The Economics of Broadcasting and Government Policy’, The American Economic Review, 56(1/2): 440447Google Scholar
Cox, M., Arnold, G. and Tomás, S. V. (2010), ‘A Review of Design Principles for Community-Based Natural Resource Management’, Ecology and Society, 15(4): 38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Crawford, S. E. S. and Ostrom, E. (1995), ‘A Grammar of Institutions’, American Political Science Review, 89(3): 582600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Davis, J. S., Hecht, G. and Perkins, J. D. (2003), ‘Social Behaviors, Enforcement, and tax Compliance Dynamics’, The Accounting Review, 78(1): 3969.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Deadman, P. J., Schlager, E., Gimblett, R., et al. (2000), ‘Simulating Common Pool Resource Management Experiments with Adaptive Agents Employing Alternate Communication Routines’, Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 3(2): 2.Google Scholar
Demsetz, H. (1967), ‘Towards a Theory of Property Rights’, The American Economic Review, 57(2):347–259.Google Scholar
Dent, P. W. (2007), ‘Satellite Communications System using Multiple Earth Stations’, Google Patents.Google Scholar
Dietz, T., Ostrom, E. and Stern, P. C. (2003), ‘The Struggle to Govern the commons’, Science, 302(5652): 19071912.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Dytso, A., Tuninetti, D. and Devroye, N. (2016), ‘Interference as Noise: Friend or Foe?’, IEEE Transactions on Information Theory, 62(6): 35613596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Federal Communications Commission (2014), ‘In the Matter of Amendment of the Commission's Rules With Regard to Commercial Operations in the 1695–1710 MHz, 1755–1780 MHz and 2155–2180 MHz Bands.’ Report and Order, 13185.Google Scholar
Force, F. C. C. S. P. T. (2002), ‘Report of the Unlicensed Devices and Experimental Licenses Working Group’, 445 12th Street SW, Washington, DC 20554.Google Scholar
Frischmann, B. M., Marciano, A. and Ramello, G. B. (2019), ‘Retrospectives: Tragedy of the Commons After 50 Years’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 33(4): 211228.Google Scholar
Ghorbani, A. and Bravo, G. (2016), ‘Managing the Commons: A Simple Model of the Emergence of Institutions Through Collective Action’, International Journal of the Commons: 10(1): 200219Google Scholar
Hardin, G. (1968), ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, Science, 162(3859): 12431248.Google ScholarPubMed
Harris, C. (2018), ‘Institutional Solutions to Free-Riding in Peer-to-Peer Networks: A Case Study of Online Pirate Communities’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 14(5): 901924.Google Scholar
Hayek, F. A. (2012), Law, Legislation and Liberty: A New Statement of the Liberal Principles of Justice and Political Economy, Abingdon, UK: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hazlett, T. W. (2017), The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, From Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone, New Haven, Connecticut, USA: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Hazlett, T. W., Porter, D. and Smith, V. (2011), ‘Radio Spectrum and the Disruptive Clarity of Ronald Coase’, The Journal of Law and Economics, 54(S4): S125S165.Google Scholar
Henrich-Franke, C. (2011), ‘Property Rights on A Cold War Battlefield: Managing Broadcasting Transmissions Through the Iron Curtain’, International Journal of the Commons, 5(1): 110129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Herter, C. A. (1985), ‘The Electromagnetic Spectrum: A Critical Natural Resource’, Natural Resources Journal, 25(3): 651663.Google Scholar
Jager, W. and Janssen, M. A. (2002), ‘Using Artificial Agents to Understand Laboratory Experiments of Common-Pool Resources with Real Agents’, Complexity and Ecosystem Management: The Theory and Practice of Multi-Agent Systems, Cheltenham, PA: Edward Elgar Publishers, pp. 75102.Google Scholar
Janssen, M. A. and Ostrom, E. (2006a), ‘Empirically Based, Agent-Based Models’, Ecology and Society, 11(2): 37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Janssen, M. A. and Ostrom, E. (2006b), ‘Governing Social-Ecological Systems’, in Handbook of Computational Economics, 2 vols, Cambridge, MA: Elseiver, pp. 14651509.Google Scholar
Lee, W. C. Y. (1990). ‘Estimate of Channel Capacity in Rayleigh Fading Environment’, IEEE Transactions on Vehicular Technology, 39(3): 187189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leeson, P. T. (2006), ‘Efficient Anarchy’, Public Choice, 130(1–2): 4153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leeson, P. T. (2007), ‘Anarchy, Monopoly, and Predation’, Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE)/Zeitschrift für die Gesamte Staatswissenschaft, 163(3): 467482CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leeson, P. T. (2008), ‘Social Distance and Self-Enforcing Exchange’, The Journal of Legal Studies, 37(1): 161188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leeson, P. T. (2014a), ‘Human Sacrifice’, Review of Behavioral Economics, 1(1–2): 137165.Google Scholar
Leeson, P. T. (2014b), Anarchy Unbound: Why Self-Governance Works Better Than You Think, New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leeson, P. T. (2019), ‘Logic is A Harsh Mistress: Welfare Economics for Economists’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 16.Google Scholar
Leeson, P. T. and Harris, C. (2018), ‘Wealth-Destroying Private Property Rights’, World Development, 107(July): 19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leeson, P. T., Harris, C. and Myers, A. (2020), ‘Kornai Goes to Kenya’, Public Choice, 2020: 112Google Scholar
Macaulay, S. (1963), ‘Non-contractual Relations in Business: A Preliminary Study’, American Sociological Review, 18(1): 5567CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Matinmikko, M., Mustonen, M., Roberson, D.Röning, J. (2014), ‘Overview and Comparison of Recent Spectrum Sharing Approaches in Regulation and Research: From Opportunistic Unlicensed Access towards Licensed Shared Access’, In 2014 IEEE International Symposium on Dynamic Spectrum Access Networks (DYSPAN), pp. 92102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mittone, L. and Patelli, P. (2000), ‘Imitative Behaviour in Tax Evasion’, In Economic Simulations in Swarm: Agent-Based Modelling and Object Oriented Programming, Boston, MA: Springer Science+Business Media, pp. 133158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
North, D. C. (1991), ‘Institutions’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5(1): 97112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ostrom, E. (1990), Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ostrom, E. (1997), ‘Self-governance of Common-Pool Resources’, In Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, London: Indiana University, pp. 423425.Google Scholar
Ostrom, E. (2009), Understanding Institutional Diversity, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ostrom, E. (2010), ‘Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of complex Economic Systems’, American Economic Review, 100(3): 641672.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ostrom, E., Agrawal, A., Blomquist, W., Schlager, E., Tang, S. Y., et al. (1989), ‘CPR Coding Manual’ [unpublished manuscript]. Available at: https://Seslibrary.Asu.Edu/Sites/Default/Files/Cprcodingmanual-Fullwcovercopytoc.Pdf.Google Scholar
Pennington, M. (2013), ‘Elinor Ostrom and the Robust Political Economy of Common-Pool Resources’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 9(4): 449468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Polinsky, A. M. and Shavell, S. (1998), ‘Punitive Damages: An Economic Analysis’, Harvard Law Review, 111(4): 869962.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Polinsky, A. M. and Shavell, S. (2000), ‘The Economic Theory of Public Enforcement of Law’, Journal of Economic Literature, 38(1): 4576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Posner, E. A. and Weyl, E. G. (2018), Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for A Just Society, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Poteete, A. R. and Ostrom, E. (2004), ‘Heterogeneity, Group Size and Collective Action: The Role of Institutions in Forest Management’, Development and Change, 35(3): 435461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Potts, J. (2018). ‘Governing the Innovation Commons’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 14(6): 10251047.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Punnoose, R. J., Tseng, R. S. and Stancil, D. D. (2001), ‘Experimental Results for Interference between Bluetooth and IEEE 802.11 b DSSS Systems’, In IEEE 54th Vehicular Technology Conference. VTC Fall 2001. Proceedings (Cat. No. 01CH37211), Vol. 1, pp. 6771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Safner, R. (2016), ‘Institutional Entrepreneurship, Wikipedia, and the Opportunity of the Commons’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 12(4): 743771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Saruthirathanaworakun, R. and Peha, J. M. (2010), ‘Dynamic Primary-Secondary Spectrum Sharing with Cellular Systems’, In 2010 Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Cognitive Radio Oriented Wireless Networks and Communications, pp. 16.Google Scholar
Somin, I. (2020), Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom, New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Staple, G. and Werbach, K. (2004), ‘The end of spectrum Scarcity [Spectrum Allocation and Utilization]’, IEEE Spectrum, 41(3): 4852.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stringham, E. (2002), ‘The Emergence of the London Stock Exchange as a Self-Policing Club’, Journal of Private Enterprise, 17(2): 119.Google Scholar
Tisue, S. and Wilensky, U. (2004), ‘NetLogo: A Simple Environment for Modeling Complexity’, In International Conference on Complex Systems, Vol. 21, pp. 1621.Google Scholar
Umbeck, J. (1977), ‘A Theory of Contract Choice and the California Gold rush’, The Journal of Law and Economics, 20(2): 421437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Weiss, M. B. H., Lehr, W. H., Acker, A. and Gomez, M. M. (2015), ‘Socio-technical Considerations for Spectrum Access System (SAS) Design’, In 2015 IEEE Dynamic Spectrum Access Networks (DySPAN), pp. 3546.Google Scholar
Williams, M. R. and Hall, J. C. (2015), ‘Hackerspaces: A Case Study in the Creation and Management of A Common Pool Resource’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 11(4): 769781.CrossRefGoogle Scholar