Suppose you live on a farm in the boondocks. A man, a rather mean man, manages to buy up parcels of land that together form a ring around your farm. Then he starts charging you a toll to cross over to and from your farm.
A more realistic example would be that the man buys up a long strip of property tangent to yours so you either pay the toll or go many miles out of your way going around the strip.
In either case though, you have a common law right to access your property more or less directly, and to actualize that right you apply to the local government for what is called an easement, which entitles you to cross over the mean guy’s property at designated points even though you don’t own them.
The easement is based on the fact that you simply must have access your property.
The radio broadcaster is like the farm owner, he wants to send his electromagnetic waves to people far away who want to receive them, yet various people’s ethereal property is in the way, like the mean man’s ring or strip was. So the broadcaster ought to be given an automatic easement for his radiation to cross over everyone’s property.
The analogy is pretty good but has a weak spot. In the farm case access is absolutely essential to the farm’s value to its owner, and furthermore the land of the farm is “just there,” always has been and always will be. In the broadcaster’s case too, the ability to broadcast is essential to the station’s value. However the broadcast station is an ephemeral affair, something artificially constructed. It could just as well have not been constructed, or having been constructed can be taken down again. A broadcast station doesn’t have the same level of existence as land does.
It may not be a slam dunk, but if the radio waves are undetectable without an appropriate radio receiver and otherwise harmless, I think the automatic easement, where the ether is viewed as public property, is the solution. As MisterSwig says:
“... when people form a community or society ... [they] must agree to share some things which come along with the nature of a properly functioning city. And we have learned, through trial and error, that these things can include publicly claimed lands and spaces.”
Not to mention the ether.
If I understand MisterSwig’s discussion of Rand’s article, she dimly recognized that radio broadcasting presents a property rights problem. At first she just ignored it and attacked the idea of public property without recognizing that there is a valid, property rights based version. Then she ended up implicitly using the valid version without recognizing it – to our detriment when it comes to the problem of immigration.
It seems to me that an automatic, universal, easement for broadcasting radio waves requires public ownership of the ether. I haven't thought about it much though.