Scarcity of Spectrum: Its Meanings and Applications in the U.S., the U.K., the Former West Germany, and Japan


Yu-li Liu


The “scarcity of spectrum” concept is a fundamental rationale for the broadcast regulations of many countries. It assumes that without regulation many people would want to broadcast on the same frequencies. Chaos would result. To avoid interference, the International Telecommunications Union asks that all member states require broadcasters to be government licensed.

However, with the emergence of cable and satellite television, critics argue that scarcity of spectrum no longer exists. Audiences can have unlimited entertainment and information options without disruption to the spectrum. Therefore, a key question arises: Is it true that the new communications technologies make the scarcity concept outdated?

This paper discusses four countries’ experiences with this issue. Generally speaking, scarcity of spectrum is not an issue in Japan. It has been an issue in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the former West Germany, but the three countries now believe new communications technologies may be discrediting the scarcity rationale. The following is a discussion of how the United States, the United Kingdom, the former West Germany, and Japan perceive this concept today.