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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)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

McCain and Wi-Fi

There has been a lot of press coverage of John McCain's aide's Gore-like Blackberry remark, but little about another McCain remark about his role in Wi-Fi. Yesterday's Washington Post quoted McCain as saying "Under my guiding hand, Congress developed a wireless spectrum policy that spurred the rapid rise of mobile phones and Wi-Fi technology". (Virtually the same words are also on McCain website.) Apparently he was talking about his chairmanship of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. For the record, he was chairman in 1997-2001 and 2003-2005.

What happened to Wi-Fi policy during this period? Basically nothing except some technical fine tuning at FCC of the rules in 47 C.F.R. 15.247.

Wi-Fi was enabled by the rules, now codified as 15.247, adopted in Docket 81-413. The drafting of the original proposals was explicitly authorized by Chmn. Ferris as part of a Carter-era push for deregulation. The NPRM and R&O were adopted in 1981 and 1985 under Chmn. Fowler with no Congressional (and almost no industry) interest. Wi-Fi was successful mainly because of deregulatory rules followed by benign neglect from Congress and FCC. (A good source of information on the origins of Wi-Fi is the collection of papers from a George Mason University 4/08 conference.)

The specific standards for Wi-Fi as we know it came from a voluntary standards group, IEEE 802.11 whose deliberations started in 1990 and the first standard was published in 1997.

So when McCain was committee chairman the first time, Wi-Fi hit the market in a big way, but the Congress and FCC had nothing to do with the timing. The foundation was set in 1985 and subsequent FCC action was fine tuning of technical details. No legislation or Congressional pressure had any impact on Wi-Fi.

While Sen. McCain's tenure as Senate Commerce Committee Chairman might have contributed to the "rapid rise of mobile phones", it had nothing to do with the success of Wi-Fi other than the coincidence that Wi-Fi became a household term in the same time period.

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