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Policy discussions about wireless communication are usually framed in terms of spectrum, signals, and radios. Spectrum is sometimes conceptualized as a space, and sometimes as a resource; sometimes those two are combined into a spatial resource - land. There are two common mental models for wireless signals: as objects moving through space, or as sounds, particularly speech. Radios are modeled as people. The spectrum/signals/radios approach is not the only way to model spectrum; a Wireless as Internet model is emerging. Mismatches between mental models and the underlying phenomena can inspire faulty intuitions. I explore the policy implications of mental models for wireless communication by analyzing three cases: the Open Spectrum movement, the FCC's Interference Temperature rule-making, and the Cognitive Radio research program. Powerful metaphors like "cognitive radio" carry the risk of generating unrealistic expectations and unwarranted reactions among policy makers, and may mislead researchers by conditioning their assumptions and interpretations in unjustified ways.
Date of Conference: 17-20 April 2007