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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Wi-Fi History
Mason University

My sincere thanks to Chuck Jackson, Tom Hazlett, and Drew Clark for organizing a great conference on Wi-Fi history on Friday. I previously gave the program here. Click on the conference logo above and you will go to a page with links to the papers, presentation "slides", and audio recordings of each session.

Vic Hayes, founding chair of 802.11 came over from Holland to speak. I was the keynote speaker.

Mark Fowler, FCC chair during the original deliberations that laid out the rules for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, was kind enough to send the following remarks,

Good morning, Thank you for opportunity to introduce Mike
Marcus to this audience today.

During my tenure as chairman, we faced a number of difficult
and contentious issues including reforming telephone rates,
facilitating telecommunications competition, and extending
First Amendment protection to all media. The electronic
press, the press that uses air and electrons, must be as free
as the press that uses paper and ink. There are no policy
reasons to regulate the content of the electronic media, only

In any case, all of these momentous issues drew the
attention of the industry, academics, Capitol Hill, and the

In comparison to those issues, our consideration in 1985 of
rules that would reduce the regulatory barriers facing radio
system innovators did not gather much attention. The
proposed policy was new—radio systems operating at the
relatively high power level of 1 watt could be brought to the
market without an FCC rulemaking or the grant of an FCC
license. In a limited sphere, it would be as easy to develop
and sell new radio equipment as it would be to develop and
sell a new toaster—well as easy as a toaster with an
antenna. As with any policy change, there were many who
feared change and suggested going slow or abandoning the

Despite these naysayers, Mike Marcus persisted. I clearly
recall the meeting with Mike in which he convinced me that I
should put the adoption of these new policies before the
entire Commission for an up or down vote. I did so, and the
Commission adopted the new Part 15 rules.

The rest is history. Today, billions of dollars of equipment
operating under these rules are sold each year. Most
portable computers sold today incorporate WiFi radios.
Looking back, it is clear that adoption of these rules was one
of the significant achievements of the Reagan FCC —though
I doubt if anyone thought so at the time.

Mike Marcus knows better than anyone else the details of
the development of the FCC’s modern unlicensed wireless
policy and is ideally suited to kick off today’s conference.
Mike truly was a man ahead of his time. He still is. So,
here’s Mike.

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