The UK's approach to radio spectrum licensing is fundamentally flawed and should be replaced with an open access model across radio frequencies, industry commentators have said.
Cory Doctorow, outreach co-ordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, will tell delegates at the Work Foundation's iSociety event on 24 June that the UK has suffered a "double disaster" with its spectrum auctions for 3G and broadband fixed wireless access.
He will argue that advances in technology make possible a system of "open spectrum", in which a "wireless commons" replaces property rights.
"We've always characterised the regulation of spectrum on the basis of scarcity," said Doctorow in a statement.
"If everyone were allowed to use the spectrum, the thinking goes, then the spectrum would be unusable. But today, it's clear that scarcity in spectrum is at least as much an artefact of regulation as of physics."
He went on to suggest that today such a system is economically efficient, technologically possible and morally preferable to the current system of auctions.
"There is something fundamentally undemocratic about charging money for communication," he explained.
"The lesson of the internet is that the difference between no-cost-per-message and low-cost-per-message is the difference between a world of active participants and a world of broadcasters and consumers."
James Crabtree, of the iSociety project, called on the UK Radio Communications Agency to review its approach to spectrum licensing.
"Spectrum is a vital national resource, essential to Britain's long-term competitiveness, and we must make the most out of what we have," he said.
"The task at hand is to design a regulatory framework that adapts to changing technology. A system of open spectrum may not yet be the answer, but it should be investigated.
"The US government recently began a 'top-to-bottom' review of spectrum policy which will look at ideas like open spectrum. We think the British government should do the same."
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