Newswise — One outgrowth of the development of radar during the Second World War was the proliferation of point-to-point microwave links, a form of radio communications that is now in widespread use. These fixed-microwave links help balance the electric grid, coordinate railroad trains, regulate pressure and flow in oil and natural-gas pipelines, carry phone calls and Internet data packets, handle cellphone traffic to and from local cell towers, transmit cries for help to fire fighters and police, and convey vast amounts of ordinary business data.

These microwave links have multiplied over the years, with engineers continually devising ways to meet increasing demands. Now, however, the tradition of letting those engineers manage their operations pretty much on their own is under assault. More and more, government regulators are awarding licenses for fixed-microwave communications to the highest bidder, auctioning off the spectrum as they have done for many other wireless services. Basic physics, economics, and common sense suggest this is a bad idea.