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Although it has been an active research area for a number of years, distributed channel assignment remains a challenging problem and existing protocols tend to be complex and usually not suitable for practical implementation. In this paper, we propose three principles that facilitate the design of efficient distributed channel assignment protocols in wireless ad hoc networks. Protocols that implement these design principles are shown to require fewer channels and exhibit significantly lower communication, computation, and storage complexity, compared with existing approaches. As examples, we present two such protocols built on the ad-hoc on-demand distance vector (AODV) routing protocol. In addition, we prove the correctness of the algorithms and derive an upper bound on the number of channels required to both resolve collisions and mitigate interference. Simulation results show that, in many cases, the performance of the proposed protocols can approach that of centralized near-optimal algorithms while maintaining low control overhead.