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Abstract:Given the success of model-free methods for control design in many problem settings, it is natural to ask how things will change if realistic communication channels are utilized for the transmission of gradients or policies. While the resulting problem has analogies with the formulations studied under the rubric of networked control systems, the rich literature in that area has typically assumed that the model of the system is known. As a step towards bridging the fields of model-free control design and networked control systems, we ask: \textit{Is it possible to solve basic control problems - such as the linear quadratic regulator (LQR) problem - in a model-free manner over a rate-limited channel?} Toward answering this question, we study a setting where a worker agent transmits quantized policy gradients (of the LQR cost) to a server over a noiseless channel with a finite bit-rate. We propose a new algorithm titled Adaptively Quantized Gradient Descent (\texttt{AQGD}), and prove that above a certain finite threshold bit-rate, \texttt{AQGD} guarantees exponentially fast convergence to the globally optimal policy, with \textit{no deterioration of the exponent relative to the unquantized setting}. More generally, our approach reveals the benefits of adaptive quantization in preserving fast linear convergence rates, and, as such, may be of independent interest to the literature on compressed optimization.