November, 2014

No More Walled Gardens? Response to Spectrum Access and the Public Sphere

To con­trol in­for­ma­ti­on and whe­re it tra­vels is to con­trol the eco­no­mic and po­li­ti­cal base of con­tem­pora­ry so­cie­ty. The ma­nage­ment and re­gu­la­ti­on of re­sour­ces like base sta­ti­ons, ser­vers, sa­tel­li­tes, and an­ten­nas are cen­tral, but none more so than the phy­si­cal me­dia its­elf: fib­re-op­tic ca­bles, te­le­pho­ne li­nes and elec­tro­ma­gne­tic spec­trum.1Spec­trum con­cerns the fre­quen­cies used for all wire­less and mo­bi­le trans­mis­si­ons, from broad­cast tech­no­lo­gies such as ra­dio and te­le­vi­si­on, through to net­works of all kinds to­day such as cel­lu­lar, the mo­bi­le In­ter­net, sen­sor net­works, smart grids etc. In Spectrum Access and the Public Sphere, Beli ar­gues that re­cent chan­ges to the ma­nage­ment of spec­trum, cou­p­led with ma­te­ri­al trans­for­ma­ti­ons ta­king place in mo­bi­le net­work in­fra­struc­tu­re, are sup­porting the de­ve­lop­ment of com­mu­ni­ty-ope­ra­ted mesh net­works. The­se net­works in turn might fos­ter an en­ga­ged and ega­li­ta­ri­an re­la­ti­ons­hip with me­dia that en­han­ce the pu­blic sphe­re bey­ond the be­hest of cor­po­ra­te mo­no­po­lies and/​or the sta­te.

Beli’s pa­per hin­ges on the well-de­ba­ted po­si­ti­on that net­wor­ked me­dia en­han­ce the pu­blic sphe­re, with the aut­hor drawing a fa­mi­li­ar con­trast bet­ween the broad­cast and cen­tra­li­sed to­po­lo­gies of mass me­dia and the many-to-many to­po­lo­gies of di­gi­tal net­works, whe­re the for­mer is as­so­cia­ted with the de­gra­da­ti­on of real de­mo­cra­cy and the lat­ter is thought to sup­port non-hier­archi­cal co­ope­ra­ti­on and con­sen­sus. This of­ten feels de­ter­mi­nis­tic, an ode to the “ma­gic” of Moo­re’s Law and “the very broa­de­ning of the pu­blic sphe­re that tech­no­lo­gy pro­vi­des”, but un­li­ke much of the li­te­ra­tu­re con­nec­ting the In­ter­net and the pu­blic sphe­re, Beli also re­co­gni­s­es the im­port­an­ce of the ma­te­ri­al con­so­li­da­ti­on of the re­sour­ces that un­der­gird this space. The net­wor­ked pu­blic sphe­re re­li­es on open plat­forms and APIs, but also on a ‘com­mons core in­fra­struc­tu­re’ outs­ide of sta­te or mar­ket con­trol.2Cp. Yoch­ai Benk­ler, “Pro­per­ty, Com­mons and the First Amend­ment. Towards a Core Com­mons In­fra­struc­tu­re”, White Paper for the First Amendment Program, Brenn­an Cent­re for Jus­ti­ce; New York, NYU School of Law, 2001. Here, con­trol of the elec­tro­ma­gne­tic spec­trum is a cen­tral is­sue. Be­cau­se of the growth of mo­bi­le data, it is also a high­ly con­tested is­sue in many parts of the world to­day.

For the most part, Beli’s pa­per con­cerns the cons­traints and af­for­dan­ces sur­roun­ding the de­ve­lop­ment of a net­work com­mons in In­dia. This in­clu­des de­tails of ex­pan­ding un­li­cen­s­ed spec­trum, small cell tech­no­lo­gies and co­gni­ti­ve ra­dio3When Beli re­fers to peop­le using “in­tel­li­gent de­vices pos­ses­sing an ‘eti­quet­te’ that al­lows them to speak to each other and pass each other po­li­te­ly”, he de­scri­bes a co­gni­ti­ve ra­dio, a de­vice that is con­text awa­re and able to switch fre­quen­cies selec­tive­ly to void in­ter­fe­ring with other ra­di­os. as the­se in­no­va­tions sup­port grass­roots net­works. At the same time, the aut­hor also ack­now­led­ges the li­mi­ta­ti­ons go­verning both spec­trum ac­cess and pos­si­bi­li­ties for eco­no­mi­cal­ly dis­rup­ti­ve and non-pro­prieta­ry net­works, par­ti­cu­lar­ly as the­se play out in In­dia to­day. The­se in­clu­de ra­dio re­gu­la­ti­on, forms of IP and ma­nu­fac­tu­ring that pro­hi­bit over-the-top ser­vices and dif­fi­cul­ties with in­cen­ti­vi­sing users as a com­mons in the con­text of neo­li­be­ral forms of go­ver­nan­ce and di­gi­tal po­li­cy.

Beli’s know­ledge of new in­no­va­tions in com­mu­ni­ty net­works and the re­gu­la­to­ry geo­gra­phy in In­dia is a fa­sci­na­ting and in­for­ma­ti­ve read, and the ques­ti­ons he rai­ses over con­trol and ac­cess are very im­portant to­day. I would like to use my own re­se­arch to speak to and at times trou­ble some of the con­clu­si­ons drawn in this pa­per. In my re­s­pon­se I am not go­ing to de­ba­te whe­ther di­gi­tal­ly net­wor­ked me­dia pro­du­ce a new kind of pu­blic sphe­re or whe­ther mo­bi­le de­vices are ef­fec­tive tools for so­ci­al mo­ve­ments. The­se de­ba­tes have been co­ve­r­ed more ef­fec­tive­ly el­sew­he­re.4See for ex­amp­le the work of Yoch­ai Benk­ler, Craig Cal­houn, Ma­nu­el Ca­s­tells, Pe­ter Dah­l­gren, Nan­cy Fra­ser, Chris­ti­an Fuchs, Ni­cho­las Garn­ham, Zizi Pa­pacha­ris­si and Ka­zys Var­ne­lis. Ins­tead, I want to en­ga­ge with what I feel is re­al­ly the core pro­po­si­ti­on of the pa­per – that the rise of sharing and mo­du­la­ri­ty in ra­dio in­fra­struc­tu­re could fa­ci­li­ta­te com­mu­ni­ty-ba­sed wire­less net­works at a grea­ter sca­le and com­ple­xi­ty than pre­vious­ly pos­si­ble.

What Does It Mean to Be Open Today?

This is a vi­tal dis­cus­sion and one that nee­ds our at­ten­ti­on. The chan­ges that we are see­ing in the po­li­ti­cal eco­no­my of net­works point to a cri­ti­cal trans­for­ma­ti­on of the con­sti­tu­ent re­la­ti­ons go­verning net­work me­dia. To­day it is not al­ways cle­ar when new forms of ac­cess and open­ness mix with pri­va­te mar­kets whe­ther this will have po­si­ti­ve ef­fects on the com­mu­nal struc­tu­re of net­works go­ing for­ward or sim­ply im­ply new spe­cies of en­clo­sure – no lon­ger a wal­led gar­den per­haps, but so­me­thing even more deli­mit­ing. Strai­ght­for­ward dis­tinc­tions such as ‘open = good; clo­sed = bad’ are less use­ful and may even be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.

The pos­si­bi­li­ty for an ‘open’ or sha­red phy­si­cal lay­er is a re­cent in­no­va­ti­on. Whi­le non-pro­prieta­ry soft­ware is one thing, base sta­ti­ons and elec­tro­ma­gne­tic spec­trum tend to be con­so­li­da­ted at a sca­le and cost that pro­hi­bit all but the most power­ful ac­tors from ac­ces­sing the­se re­sour­ces. But to­day we are star­ting to see chan­ges to the ways that core in­fra­struc­tu­re is de­si­gned, built, ma­na­ged and ow­ned. This is for a num­ber of re­a­sons: more af­for­da­ble elec­tro­nics and open sour­ce hard­ware in­no­va­tions in mo­bi­le com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons; soft­ware vir­tua­li­sa­ti­ons that rou­te around the ne­ces­si­ty of ex­pen­si­ve hard­ware; a shift from mo­no­li­thic re­sour­ces towards den­se small cell net­works; next ge­ne­ra­ti­on net­works that re­qui­re grea­ter fle­xi­bi­li­ty; and chan­ges to re­gu­la­ti­on in re­s­pon­se to mo­bi­le con­ges­ti­on that re­qui­re a grea­ter flui­di­ty of elec­tro­ma­gne­tic spec­trum.

“Might [the­se chan­ges] also im­ply a shift in the ba­lan­ce of con­trol and ow­nership bet­ween in­di­vi­du­als and cor­po­ra­ti­ons?”

The re­sult could be grea­ter ac­cess to spec­trum, to base sta­ti­ons – to the phy­si­cal stuff of mo­bi­le net­works – no more a wal­led en­cla­ve but a com­mu­ni­ty gar­den you can hack to­ge­ther. In the­se ear­ly sta­ges, it is temp­t­ing to spe­cu­la­te, as Beli does, that the­se chan­ges could sup­port non­mar­ket and non-pro­prieta­ry com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons net­works ope­ra­ting at a sca­le that fa­ci­li­ta­tes pu­blic en­ga­ge­ment and co­ope­ra­ti­on. Let us un­pack this a litt­le.

Be­cau­se of in­ter­fe­rence bet­ween de­vices, spec­trum is of­ten de­scri­bed as a sc­ar­ce good. For the ma­jo­ri­ty of ra­dio his­to­ry, spec­trum has been re­gu­la­ted in ways that pri­vi­le­ge com­mer­ci­al and sta­te ac­tors and lar­ge­ly pro­hi­bit com­mu­nal ac­cess. Na­tio­nal and in­ter­na­tio­nal re­gu­la­to­ry aut­ho­ri­ties as­sign fre­quen­cies bands to spe­ci­fic ap­p­li­ca­ti­ons such as te­le­vi­si­on or cel­lu­lar and ex­clu­si­ve­ly al­lo­ca­te por­ti­ons of the­se to pu­blic ser­vices or com­mer­ci­al in­cum­bents through be­au­ty con­tests or auc­tions. The ex­cep­ti­on to this is WiFi5A small amount of un­li­cen­s­ed spec­trum al­re­a­dy exists and is com­mon­ly known as WiFi. In 1985, the FCC aut­ho­ri­sed the use of the­se bands of spec­trum de­si­gna­ted for In­dus­tri­al, Sci­en­ti­fic and Me­di­cal ser­vices (ISM Bands) for low powe­r­ed com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons de­vices on a li­cen­se-ex­empt or un­li­cen­s­ed ba­sis. The re­gu­la­ti­on did not spe­ci­fy too many de­tails, ...continue, which any­bo­dy is free to use pro­vi­ded they fol­low cer­tain pro­to­cols. In the past few ye­ars, howe­ver, the­re’s been a wealth of pro­po­sals to ex­pand the amount of un­li­cen­s­ed spec­trum and/​or to sha­re spec­trum in new non­ex­clu­si­ve ways. A num­ber of tech­no­lo­gi­cal and eco­no­mic fac­tors now fa­vour an un­li­cen­s­ed ap­proach to spec­trum re­gu­la­ti­on: the ex­po­nen­ti­al de­mand for mo­bi­le band­width pro­du­ced by an exa­f­lood of Smart­pho­ne data, the de­ve­lop­ment of dy­na­mic spec­trum ac­cess tech­no­lo­gies such as co­gni­ti­ve ra­dio, so­phis­ti­ca­ted mul­ti­plex­ing and smart an­ten­nas that al­low mul­ti­ple ra­dia­ting de­vices to oc­cu­py the same fre­quen­cies si­mul­ta­neous­ly, and the fre­eing up of ad­di­tio­nal spec­trum in the trans­fer from ana­lo­gue to di­gi­tal te­le­vi­si­on (TV Whi­te-space). To­day it is fair to say that open spec­trum has a cur­ren­cy bey­ond open sour­ce ac­tivism, emer­ging in main­stream di­gi­tal po­li­cy.6Se­veral high pro­fi­le re­ports pu­blis­hed in the last few ye­ars in­di­ca­te this sea chan­ge, re­com­men­ding a pa­ra­digm shift from ex­clu­si­ve ac­cess to forms of sha­red and non-ex­clu­si­ve ow­nership. Cp. Si­mon For­ge et al., “Per­spec­tives on the Va­lue of Sha­red Spec­trum Ac­cess”, Final Report for the EC, Fe­bru­ary 2012; Ri­chard Than­ki, “The Eco­no­mic Si­gni­fi­can­ce of ...continue

And it is not just sha­red spec­trum; we are see­ing a ge­ne­ral rise in re­sour­ce sharing and dis­tri­bu­ti­on in mo­bi­le net­works, which, un­til re­cent­ly, were lea­ding ex­hi­bits of high­ly cen­tra­li­sed and pro­prieta­ry in­fra­struc­tu­re.7Cp. Ge­rard Gog­gin, Global Mobile Media, Lon­don, Rout­ledge, 2010, p. 58. In ear­ly cel­lu­lar net­works, the car­ri­er main­tai­ned ex­clu­si­ve con­trol of all the ne­cessa­ry re­sour­ces. Next ge­ne­ra­ti­ons such as 4G (IMT ad­van­ced) and Long Term Evo­lu­ti­on (LTE), howe­ver, re­qui­re a grea­ter ar­chi­tec­tu­ral flui­di­ty com­pa­red with le­ga­cy net­works such as 2G/​GSM. To­day ap­proa­ches are emer­ging that vir­tua­li­se the net­work;8Ti­mo­thy K. For­de et al., “Ex­clu­si­ve Sharing and Vir­tua­liza­t­i­on of the Cel­lu­lar Net­work”, New Frontiers in Dynamic Spectrum Access Networks (DySPAN), 2011 IEEE Symposium, IEEE, 2011, pp. 337–348.
 that sup­port the con­cept of dis­tri­bu­ted or mul­ti­ple points of con­nec­tion;9Lin­da Doyle, “The Mobile Phones of the Future”, April 29, 2011. that sha­re, re-use and re­dis­tri­bu­te re­sour­ces;10Meh­di Ben­nis and Jor­ma Lil­le­berg, “In­ter Base Sta­ti­on Re­sour­ce Sharing and Im­pro­ving the Over­all Ef­fi­ci­en­cy of B3G Sys­tems”, Vehicular Technology Conference (VTC-2007 Fall), IEEE 66th, 2007, pp. 1494–1498. or that cede cen­tra­li­sed con­trol of trans­mis­si­ons from the mo­bi­le ope­ra­tor to third par­ties or even to the end user. An ex­amp­le of this is small cell tech­no­lo­gies, which Beli spe­ci­fi­cal­ly men­ti­ons. Fem­to­cells and pi­cocells ope­ra­te as an ex­ten­si­on to the car­ri­er’s exis­ting net­work, pro­vi­ding im­pro­ved co­ver­age in a user’s di­rect vicini­ty and con­nec­ting to a user’s exis­ting broad­band con­nec­tion for back­haul.

The out­co­me is that many of the­se re­sour­ces might be sha­red by a va­rie­ty of sta­ke­hol­ders. They might be­co­me ac­ces­si­ble to users and com­mu­ni­ty groups. This could ex­tend, sca­le and ad­van­ce the com­mu­ni­ty net­works WiFi al­re­a­dy af­fords. Or it could lead to dis­rup­ti­ve tech­no­lo­gies that ope­ra­te ‘over the top’ of exis­ting com­mer­ci­al ser­vices.

The New Enclosures in Radio Space

The­re are a num­ber of is­su­es with this I would like to ex­plo­re. This in­crea­se in sharing and open­ness is not de­si­gned to pro­li­fe­ra­te com­mu­nal ac­cess to a re­sour­ce in any las­ting or per­ma­nent fa­shion; it is about mi­ni­mi­sing the costs and risks of roll out for mo­bi­le ope­ra­tors. Re­sour­ces are selec­tive­ly open whi­le they are en­clo­sed in new ways. The­se en­clo­sures may take the form of new re­gu­la­to­ry frame­works pro­hi­bit­ing eco­no­mi­cal­ly dis­rup­ti­ve be­ha­viours, as ef­fec­tive­ly de­scri­bed in Beli’s pa­per, or in­cre­a­sin­gly they take what Alex Gal­lo­way would call a ‘pro­to­co­lo­gi­cal form’ that is writ­ten into the lo­gic of the ra­dio de­vice its­elf.11Cp. Alex Gal­lo­way, Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, Cam­bridge MA, MIT Press, 2004.

Pre­vious­ly the­re was a cer­tain op­po­si­ti­on bet­ween WiFi as an eco­no­mi­cal­ly dis­rup­ti­ve in­no­va­ti­on and car­ri­ers’ tra­di­tio­nal busi­ness mo­dels ba­sed on ex­clu­si­ve con­trol of the PTSN net­work. But this is be­co­m­ing less of an is­sue. To­day WiFi func­tions less as a dis­rup­ti­ve force and more as a va­luable ex­ter­na­li­ty for mo­bi­le car­ri­ers. As mo­bi­le net­work traf­fic in­crea­ses, ope­ra­tors off­load data from their con­ge­sted net­works into this spec­12Cp. Yoch­ai Benk­ler, “Open Wire­less vs. Li­cen­s­ed Spec­trum: Evi­dence from Mar­ket Ad­op­ti­on” Harvard Journal of Law and Technology, 26(1), 2012, pp. 71–163. Far from dis­cou­ra­ging open net­works, the­re­fo­re, ope­ra­tors now re­co­gni­se in­te­gra­ti­on bet­ween li­cen­s­ed and un­li­cen­s­ed as a way to gain the be­ne­fits from an open ac­cess mo­del whi­le so­cia­li­zing some of the costs of in­vest­ment in core in­fra­struc­tu­re. Up to 90 per cent of smart pho­ne and ta­blet traf­fic is now car­ri­ed by wire­less net­works13Cp. Ju­ni­per Re­se­arch, “Mobile Data Offload and Onload: Wi-Fi, Small Cell and Carrier-grade Strategies 2013–2017”, Re­port, 2013. with a lar­ge pro­por­ti­on of this re­ly­ing on per­so­nal net­works as op­po­sed to com­mer­ci­al hot­spots.14Cp. Cis­co, “Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update 2010-2015”, 2011. The­re are even di­rect part­nerships bet­ween com­mu­ni­ty net­works such as FON and ope­ra­tors like Bri­tish Tel­e­com and Deut­sche Te­le­kom.15In March 2013, Deut­sche Te­le­kom an­noun­ced that it would part­ner with FON in pro­vi­ding 2.5 mil­li­on hot­spots by 2016. As Deut­sche Te­le­kom CEO Rene Ober­mann ob­ser­ved, “[t]he part­nership with FON sits per­fect­ly with Te­le­kom’s net­work ex­pan­si­on stra­te­gy. Wi-Fi and hot­spots can be used to di­vert hea­vy data traf­fic to fi­xed-line net­works and this re­du­ces the load on mo­bi­le ...continue More re­cent­ly, in­cum­bents ho­ping to roll out LTE net­works have de­ve­l­o­ped a si­mi­lar stra­te­gy, with LTE-Un­li­cen­s­ed de­si­gned to ex­ploit un­li­cen­s­ed fre­quen­cies for the trans­mis­si­on of cust­o­m­er data by com­mer­ci­al in­cum­bents who claim ow­nership to li­cen­s­ed bands el­sew­he­re.16Cp. Ri­chard Than­ki, “Jury Still Out on LTE-Unlicensed”, Light Reading, March 12, 2013. Pro­po­sals for grea­ter un­li­cen­s­ed spec­trum in go­vern­ment spec­trum or the sub 1GHz TV Whi­te-spaces il­lus­tra­te the same trend: the ma­jo­ri­ty of pro­po­sals ex­tend sharing to an ex­clu­si­ve cad­re of mo­bi­le in­cum­bents with litt­le to no pro­vi­si­on for ge­ne­ral aut­ho­ri­sed ac­cess to the new spec­trum com­mons.17To­day the­re are con­tro­ver­sies bet­ween a two-tie­red and a three-tie­red mo­del for spec­trum sharing, whe­re a two-tie­red mo­del of sharing li­mits sharing to a dis­cre­te group of mo­bi­le ope­ra­tor, whi­le a three-tie­red mo­del also pro­vi­si­ons some form of ge­ne­ral aut­ho­ri­sed ac­cess to spec­trum by smal­ler ac­tors such as users. Cp. Mike Dano, “The Looming Conflict Over Spectrum ...continue

The busi­ness mo­del for small cell net­works ex­hi­bits si­mi­lar cha­rac­te­ris­tics: fem­to­cells rely on the user’s In­ter­net con­nec­tion for back­haul. Whe­re the ope­ra­tor con­trols the­se, the user is ef­fec­tive­ly bil­led twice for their net­work in­fra­struc­tu­re. Any at­tempts to use small cell in­no­va­tions to sca­le non-pro­prieta­ry net­works are frus­tra­ted by re­gu­la­ti­ons that spe­ci­fi­cal­ly pro­hi­bit the­se sorts of hacks. Ins­tead, tel­e­com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons com­pa­nies nor­mal­ly have ex­clu­si­ve li­cen­ses from their na­tio­nal re­gu­la­to­ry aut­ho­ri­ty for the ma­nu­fac­tu­re and dis­tri­bu­ti­on of fem­to­cells.18AT&T, “Let­ter to the FCC Re: Amend­ment of parts 1, 2, 22, 24, 27, 90 and 95 of the Com­mis­si­on’s Ru­les to Im­pro­ve Wire­less Co­ver­age through the Use of Si­gnal Boos­ters”, 2012. We can­not sim­ply build and im­ple­ment our own. Beli pro­vi­des an ex­hi­bit of this kind of lock-in, when he de­scri­bes re­gu­la­ti­ons go­verning the in­te­gra­ti­on of VoIP and PTSN ser­vices in In­dia. Cho­ke­points are still very much in place whe­re­ver com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons threa­ten to overspill or dis­rupt the va­lue chain.

Who re­al­ly be­ne­fits from the new forms of sharing? This is not an ex­pan­si­on of the com­mons, but a fur­ther ex­pan­si­on of the mar­ket, a mode of ex­ploi­ta­ti­on cloa­ked in the watch­words of the sharing eco­no­my. The real tra­ge­dy of the com­mons to­day is that, more of­ten than not, the mar­ket sim­ply ab­sorbs po­ten­ti­al­ly dis­rup­ti­ve ac­tivi­ties. The new mesh net­wor­king pro­to­cols and grass­roots net­works Beli draws our at­ten­ti­on to are worth con­side­ring, but we also need to be awa­re of the new ways in which the­se are en­clo­sed and co-op­ted.

We are also see­ing new forms of en­clo­sure whe­re au­to­ma­ted ma­nage­ment is star­ting to re­place re­gu­la­ti­on. Sha­red spec­trum re­qui­res new dy­na­mic tech­ni­ques to prevent in­ter­fe­rence, but with the­se co­mes much more in­s­idious mo­dels of con­trol.19Whi­le the­re is not a lot of li­te­ra­tu­re on this yet, the­se pro­po­sed sys­tems take their di­rec­tion from the re­gu­la­to­ry pro­to­cols de­si­gned for TV Whi­te Spaces. Cp. Eu­ro­pean Com­pu­ter Ma­nu­fac­tu­rers As­so­cia­ti­ons (ECMA), “Mac and Phy Operation in TV White Space”, Stan­dard ECMA-392, 2012; H.R. Ka­ri­mi, “Geo­lo­ca­ti­on Da­ta­ba­ses for Whi­te Space De­vices in the UHF ...continue New pro­po­sals for spec­trum sharing spe­ci­fy the in­tro­duc­tion of cen­tra­li­sed da­ta­ba­ses and clea­ring­hou­ses to ma­na­ge co­ope­ra­ti­ve de­vices. De­vices are te­the­red to their net­work and must con­tact the da­ta­ba­se fre­quent­ly to pro­vi­de in­for­ma­ti­on about their lo­ca­ti­on and ac­tivi­ty. This al­lows the da­ta­ba­se to pro­vi­de the ra­dio with in­for­ma­ti­on about fre­quen­cies that are cur­rent­ly oc­cu­p­ied or off-li­mits, a use­ful ca­pa­ci­ty. But is also al­lows a de­vice to be con­trol­led and ac­ces­sed re­mo­te­ly.20Cp. Com­mer­ce Spec­trum Ma­nage­ment Ad­vi­so­ry Com­mit­tee, “CSMAC Unlicensed Subcommittee Final Report”, July 24, 2012. Again, this amounts to a shift not from clo­sed spec­trum to the spec­trum com­mons, but one of ex­ter­nal ju­ri­di­cal re­gu­la­ti­on to a sys­tem whe­re some cen­tral aut­ho­ri­ty now has the power to re­mo­te­ly mo­ni­tor and even per­man­ent­ly disa­ble a de­vice. And this power is no lon­ger law; it is en­gi­nee­red in the pro­to­col of the de­vice its­elf. Net­wor­ked me­dia now fa­ci­li­ta­tes the forms of dis­tri­bu­ted or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on as­so­cia­ted with open­ness and com­mons-ba­sed peer pro­duc­tion, whi­le they also make way for the sur­veil­lan­ce, ag­gre­ga­ti­on and con­trol of dis­tri­bu­ted free agents.

Commoning for the Network Commons

I think a failu­re to un­der­stand the ways in which the com­mons co­ale­sces with the mar­ket in the po­li­ti­cal eco­no­my of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons also ex­tends to how the aut­hor dis­cus­ses chal­len­ges, in­cen­ti­ves and di­sin­cen­ti­ves for the pro­duc­tion of com­mons core in­fra­struc­tu­re go­ing for­ward. Ul­ti­mate­ly it is pro­ble­ma­tic to think that we can rely on a mar­ket-ba­sed sys­tem to ef­fec­tive­ly pro­vi­si­on a so­ci­al good. Beli ap­proa­ches this ques­ti­on from a per­spec­tive that is firm­ly po­si­tio­ned in­si­de of a neo­li­be­ral eco­no­mic frame­work – i.e. that a wi­th­dra­wal of the sta­te and an even grea­ter de­re­gu­la­ti­on of mo­bi­le com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons might fa­ci­li­ta­te a net­work com­mons. Even as the aut­hor points to a mode of collec­tive go­ver­nan­ce outs­ide of the sta­te and the mar­ket, the­re­fo­re, the co­or­di­na­tes of the pro­blem are al­ways al­re­a­dy struc­tu­red in re­la­ti­on to self-in­te­rested com­pe­ti­ti­ve sub­jects ope­ra­ting in the face of sc­ar­ce and ma­te­ri­al­ly fi­ni­te re­sour­ces that are best pro­vi­sio­ned through a pri­cing sys­tem. The use of Har­din’s Tragedy of the Commons is a case in point here and il­lus­tra­tes a failu­re to re­al­ly en­ga­ge with what a net­work com­mons might mean. It is not just a case of ac­cess, or of in­cen­ti­vi­sing sel­fish in­di­vi­du­als. Com­mo­n­ing, whe­ther of na­tu­ral re­sour­ces or di­gi­tal net­works has to be­gin from a very dif­fe­rent sub­jec­tivi­ty and a dif­fe­rent re­la­ti­ons­hip to re­sour­ces that are dif­fi­cult to grasp or ima­gi­ne in the con­text of li­be­ral eco­no­mics and pu­blic vs. pri­va­te mo­des of go­ver­nan­ce. And it ta­kes more than tools or tech­no­lo­gies to pro­du­ce this. The­re is no kil­ler app.

Beli’s is vi­tal re­se­arch, and the net­works he de­scri­bes could well be core com­po­n­ents in the fu­ture de­ve­lop­ment of a de­mo­cra­tic pu­blic sphe­re in In­dia, but along­s­ide the tech­no­lo­gi­cal in­no­va­tions and mo­des of re­sis­tan­ce de­tai­led in Spectrum Access and the Public Sphere, we need new ways of con­cep­tua­li­sing the strugg­les for con­trol over com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons, and we need to find ways to bridge this work with other so­ci­al strugg­les against pri­va­ti­sa­ti­on and en­clo­sure.

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1. Spec­trum con­cerns the fre­quen­cies used for all wire­less and mo­bi­le trans­mis­si­ons, from broad­cast tech­no­lo­gies such as ra­dio and te­le­vi­si­on, through to net­works of all kinds to­day such as cel­lu­lar, the mo­bi­le In­ter­net, sen­sor net­works, smart grids etc.
2. Cp. Yoch­ai Benk­ler, “Pro­per­ty, Com­mons and the First Amend­ment. Towards a Core Com­mons In­fra­struc­tu­re”, White Paper for the First Amendment Program, Brenn­an Cent­re for Jus­ti­ce; New York, NYU School of Law, 2001.
3. When Beli re­fers to peop­le using “in­tel­li­gent de­vices pos­ses­sing an ‘eti­quet­te’ that al­lows them to speak to each other and pass each other po­li­te­ly”, he de­scri­bes a co­gni­ti­ve ra­dio, a de­vice that is con­text awa­re and able to switch fre­quen­cies selec­tive­ly to void in­ter­fe­ring with other ra­di­os.
4. See for ex­amp­le the work of Yoch­ai Benk­ler, Craig Cal­houn, Ma­nu­el Ca­s­tells, Pe­ter Dah­l­gren, Nan­cy Fra­ser, Chris­ti­an Fuchs, Ni­cho­las Garn­ham, Zizi Pa­pacha­ris­si and Ka­zys Var­ne­lis.
5. A small amount of un­li­cen­s­ed spec­trum al­re­a­dy exists and is com­mon­ly known as WiFi. In 1985, the FCC aut­ho­ri­sed the use of the­se bands of spec­trum de­si­gna­ted for In­dus­tri­al, Sci­en­ti­fic and Me­di­cal ser­vices (ISM Bands) for low powe­r­ed com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons de­vices on a li­cen­se-ex­empt or un­li­cen­s­ed ba­sis. The re­gu­la­ti­on did not spe­ci­fy too many de­tails, but ins­tead pre­scri­bed par­ti­cu­lar li­mits on the ma­xi­mum power out­put of any de­vice ope­ra­ting in the band. This ISM band in turn gave rise to wire­less pro­to­cols such as WiFi (IEEE 802.11b) Blue­tooth and Zig­bee (IEEE 802.15).
6. Se­veral high pro­fi­le re­ports pu­blis­hed in the last few ye­ars in­di­ca­te this sea chan­ge, re­com­men­ding a pa­ra­digm shift from ex­clu­si­ve ac­cess to forms of sha­red and non-ex­clu­si­ve ow­nership. Cp. Si­mon For­ge et al., “Per­spec­tives on the Va­lue of Sha­red Spec­trum Ac­cess”, Final Report for the EC, Fe­bru­ary 2012; Ri­chard Than­ki, “The Eco­no­mic Si­gni­fi­can­ce of Li­cen­se-ex­empt Spec­trum to the Fu­ture of the In­ter­net”, White Paper, 2012; Pre­si­dent’s Coun­cil of Ad­vi­sors in Sci­ence and Tech­no­lo­gy (PCAST), “Rea­li­zing the Full Po­ten­ti­al of Go­vern­ment-held Spec­trum to Spur Eco­no­mic Growth”, Wa­shing­ton DC, 2012.
7. Cp. Ge­rard Gog­gin, Global Mobile Media, Lon­don, Rout­ledge, 2010, p. 58.
8. Ti­mo­thy K. For­de et al., “Ex­clu­si­ve Sharing and Vir­tua­liza­t­i­on of the Cel­lu­lar Net­work”, New Frontiers in Dynamic Spectrum Access Networks (DySPAN), 2011 IEEE Symposium, IEEE, 2011, pp. 337–348.
9. Lin­da Doyle, “The Mobile Phones of the Future”, April 29, 2011.
10. Meh­di Ben­nis and Jor­ma Lil­le­berg, “In­ter Base Sta­ti­on Re­sour­ce Sharing and Im­pro­ving the Over­all Ef­fi­ci­en­cy of B3G Sys­tems”, Vehicular Technology Conference (VTC-2007 Fall), IEEE 66th, 2007, pp. 1494–1498.
11. Cp. Alex Gal­lo­way, Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, Cam­bridge MA, MIT Press, 2004.
12. Cp. Yoch­ai Benk­ler, “Open Wire­less vs. Li­cen­s­ed Spec­trum: Evi­dence from Mar­ket Ad­op­ti­on” Harvard Journal of Law and Technology, 26(1), 2012, pp. 71–163.
13. Cp. Ju­ni­per Re­se­arch, “Mobile Data Offload and Onload: Wi-Fi, Small Cell and Carrier-grade Strategies 2013–2017”, Re­port, 2013.
14. Cp. Cis­co, “Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update 2010-2015”, 2011.
15. In March 2013, Deut­sche Te­le­kom an­noun­ced that it would part­ner with FON in pro­vi­ding 2.5 mil­li­on hot­spots by 2016. As Deut­sche Te­le­kom CEO Rene Ober­mann ob­ser­ved, “[t]he part­nership with FON sits per­fect­ly with Te­le­kom’s net­work ex­pan­si­on stra­te­gy. Wi-Fi and hot­spots can be used to di­vert hea­vy data traf­fic to fi­xed-line net­works and this re­du­ces the load on mo­bi­le net­works”. Sean McGrath, “Deutsche Telekom and FON Deal Points Firmly in the Direction of Wi-Fi Offload”, Wireless Broadband Alliance, May 3, 2013.
16. Cp. Ri­chard Than­ki, “Jury Still Out on LTE-Unlicensed”, Light Reading, March 12, 2013.
17. To­day the­re are con­tro­ver­sies bet­ween a two-tie­red and a three-tie­red mo­del for spec­trum sharing, whe­re a two-tie­red mo­del of sharing li­mits sharing to a dis­cre­te group of mo­bi­le ope­ra­tor, whi­le a three-tie­red mo­del also pro­vi­si­ons some form of ge­ne­ral aut­ho­ri­sed ac­cess to spec­trum by smal­ler ac­tors such as users. Cp. Mike Dano, “The Looming Conflict Over Spectrum Sharing”, FierceWireless, June 21, 2013.
18. AT&T, “Let­ter to the FCC Re: Amend­ment of parts 1, 2, 22, 24, 27, 90 and 95 of the Com­mis­si­on’s Ru­les to Im­pro­ve Wire­less Co­ver­age through the Use of Si­gnal Boos­ters”, 2012.
19. Whi­le the­re is not a lot of li­te­ra­tu­re on this yet, the­se pro­po­sed sys­tems take their di­rec­tion from the re­gu­la­to­ry pro­to­cols de­si­gned for TV Whi­te Spaces. Cp. Eu­ro­pean Com­pu­ter Ma­nu­fac­tu­rers As­so­cia­ti­ons (ECMA), “Mac and Phy Operation in TV White Space”, Stan­dard ECMA-392, 2012; H.R. Ka­ri­mi, “Geo­lo­ca­ti­on Da­ta­ba­ses for Whi­te Space De­vices in the UHF TV Bands: Spe­ci­fi­ca­ti­on of Ma­xi­mum Per­mit­ted Emis­si­on Le­vels”, New Frontiers in Dynamic Spectrum Access Networks IEEE, 2011, pp. 443–454; Of­fice of Com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons (Of­com), “Implementing Geolocation: Summary of Consultation Response and Next Steps”, Of­com, 2011; Wil­li­am Webb, “White Space Databases: A Guidance Note for Regulators and Others”, 2012.
20. Cp. Com­mer­ce Spec­trum Ma­nage­ment Ad­vi­so­ry Com­mit­tee, “CSMAC Unlicensed Subcommittee Final Report”, July 24, 2012.
Rachel O’Dwyer

Rachel O’Dwyer is a post-doc­to­ral re­se­ar­cher and lec­tu­rer in the School of Com­pu­ter Sci­ence at Tri­ni­ty Col­le­ge Dub­lin. Her re­se­arch are­as in­clu­de di­gi­tal com­mons, po­li­ti­cal eco­no­my of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons and al­ter­na­ti­ve cur­ren­cies. She is the lea­der of the Dublin Art and Technology Association and the cu­ra­tor of Openhere, a fes­ti­val and con­fe­rence on the di­gi­tal com­mons. She has pu­blis­hed in jour­nals such as Fibreculture and Ephemera, as well as book chap­ters – most re­cent­ly In­sti­tu­te of Net­work Cul­tu­re’s Moneylab Reader (2015) and Rout­ledge’s Companion to Remix Studies (Win­ter 2014). She is a re­gu­lar cont­ri­bu­tor to Neural ma­ga­zi­ne and the foun­ding edi­tor in chief of the open ac­cess peer-re­view­ed jour­nal Interference.