As an economic term, land is much broader than the colloquial meaning of "the ground." Land includes everything that humans have economic use for but don't create themselves. By their nature, these resources are limited, and owning or controlling a land resource can give a powerful or decisive advantage to a business. Land represents one of three factors of production, along with labor and capital.
Material land means the most basic type of land: literally a plot on the surface of the Earth. Material land can be used for a number of purposes, such as building a factory to produce goods, a store to sell them, or a home to rent or sell. If the land is picturesque, it may carry inherent value as a tourist destination. Ownership of material land is not necessarily absolute. The owner may only own the surface layers, for example, and not the space deep underneath.
Natural resources include wildlife resources, water and mineral rights. Natural resources such as coal or lumber can be extracted as raw materials. Wildlife may also be maintained in tact for its aesthetic or environmental value or to make money from outdoor recreation. In many cases, the owner of a plot of land does not necessarily own all the resources underneath it. An underground aquifer, for example, might be owned by the city even if a large proportion of it lies beneath a single landowner's property.
Spatial land refers to the space above a property. The government regulates and maintains such space for its use in commercial or government flight. In other cases, spatial land is restricted to military use. The orbits of satellites are also considered spatial land. Geostationary communications satellites need to fly at a particular altitude in a particular position in the sky to cover an area of the earth. Possessing that piece of spatial land allows a company to provide satellite cable, radio or Internet access to a particular region of the earth.
The electromagnetic spectrum is also a type of land. In the United States, the FCC divides up and regulates electromagnetic bands for different purposes. An FM radio broadcaster is allowed to broadcast a certain strength signal from a certain location on a particular frequency. Because the FM band allows only a limited number of frequencies in any area, the stations with FM licenses are the only ones able to compete. Similarly, microwave towers are used for cell phone providers, citizens band is used for low power communication by private citizens and other bands are set aside for military, air traffic and other special uses.
Isaiah David is a freelance writer and musician living in Portland, Ore. He has over five years experience as a professional writer and has been published on various online outlets. He holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Michigan.