Interesting editorial concludes that spectrum management is leading to municipal wireless fights: If you follow Thomas Hazlett's logic from start to finish, he argues that the reason there's a pull for municipal wireless--including from municipalities that have fought or imposed tough conditions on other forms of broadband in the past--is that companies that would like to provide such services are stymied by bandwidth scarcity. If they had the bandwidth, they'd have built the service, and would already be providing effective competition for incumbents. Craig McCaw provides one example: he bought MMDS bandwidth and now is looking at providing competitive offerings to wireline broadband.
I agree with elements of his reasoning. If the cell companies and other firms interesting in wireless data had enormously more bandwidth, it would be substantially easier for them to trial and roll out data services without worrying about scavenging bits and pieces and trying the most advanced, most spectrum-scrounging alternatives. (Scarcity promotes ingenuity, too, so there's a case to be made for giving billion-dollar companies a box full of parts and asking them to build a spaceship.)
Hazlett is dead on about the lack of coordinated spectrum policy management in the U.S. It bites us again and again compared to the lockstep of parts of the rest of the world, making us less competitive in that businesses have to support many standards and many bands. There's no logical path forward. Diversity breeds strength, one might argue here, too, but sometimes easier is just better. The efforts introduced by FCC chair Michael Powell to reform the MMDS band, thus reallocating and freeing up massive amounts of sweet-spot spectrum plus the eventual freeing of VHF and more UHF bands when the DTV transition is complete (in some future decade) might eventually provide the necessary bandwidth for "easier."
Hazlett does sidestep the entire cost issue. 3G spectrum was available in Europe, and telcos practically bankrupted themselves bidding it up during the bubble's growth worldwide. American carriers avoided spending resources just before a time they could scarce afford it, and that might be why we have six strong carriers who just collapsed into five and possibly soon four.