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A broadcast license is a specific type of spectrum licence that grants the licensee the privilege to use a portion of the radio frequency spectrum in a given geographical area for broadcasting purposes.

Licensing is typically performed by government agencies, providing a mechanism both for managing the limited resource of radio frequency spectrum and for implementing prevailing public policy, such as policies regarding concentration of media ownership.

Management of technical specifications, such as those implemented in broadcast television systems, is normally undertaken as a part of broadcast licensing in each country. Various radio bands carry different radio signals, such as video and audio, digital and analog, narrowband and broadband, and different types of content, and are therefore licensed differently.

Licensing is also different for public radio and public television, and for community radio and community television, as compared to commercial applicants and licensees.


Originally, broadcast licences were issued for only a nominal payment, but work by economist Ronald Coase developed an economic theory that broadcast licences in a spectrum that was limited had high economic value, which could and should be paid for on the open market. Increasingly, spectrum licences are offered via spectrum auctions, however this fails to consider non-commercial educational users, which are shut out of the process unless steps to ensure their fair consideration are taken.

The sale of licenses, with the profits going to the seller instead of the licensor, also implies some sort of ownership of the airwaves by the licensees — when in fact the spectrum, like light, air, and water, are inherently public property as a matter of the laws of physics, and broadcasters are only paying to rent it.

Technical specifications

The broadcast license typically specifies the following information at minimum:

Additionally, they often specify the following:

Some countries also specify radio format or genre of television programming, in order to ensure diversity.


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