We're From the Government and We're Here to Help


I was surprised to learn from The Economist (subscribers) this morning that we have government regulators to thank for Wi-Fi:

Wi-Fi seems even more remarkable when you look at its provenance: it was, in effect, spawned by an American government agency from an area of radio spectrum widely referred to as ?the garbage bands?. Technology entrepreneurs generally prefer governments to stay out of their way: funding basic research, perhaps, and then buying finished products when they emerge on the market. But in the case of Wi-Fi, the government seems actively to have guided innovation. ?Wi-Fi is a creature of regulation, created more by lawyers than by engineers,? asserts Mitchell Lazarus, an expert in telecoms regulation at Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, a law firm based in Arlington, Virginia. As a lawyer, Mr Lazarus might be expected to say that. But he was also educated as an electrical engineer?and besides, the facts seem to bear him out.

Huh (I think to myself), I guess it's nice to see something good come out of a government agency—that one might even beat Tang. But what, I wonder, was their big innovative move?

Wi-Fi would certainly not exist without a decision taken in 1985 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), America's telecoms regulator, to open several bands of wireless spectrum, allowing them to be used without the need for a government licence.

So they, uh, removed a barrier that they'd previously been the source of? How innovative. Though I shouldn't make fun; we could use plenty more "help" of that sort from regulators.