What if I told you that we could have had cellular technology as far back as 1947 if the government hadn’t interfered? You’d probably label me a cooky conspiracy theorist and file me with the people who say that we could have had electric cars decades ago if it weren’t for oil companies. But a conspiracy theory ceases to be a theory when it turns out to be true:
When AT&T wanted to start developing cellular in 1947, the FCC rejected the idea, believing that spectrum could be best used by other services that were not “in the nature of convenience or luxury.” This view—that this would be a niche service for a tiny user base—persisted well into the 1980s. “Land mobile,” the generic category that covered cellular, was far down on the FCC’s list of priorities. In 1949, it was assigned just 4.7 percent of the spectrum in the relevant range. Broadcast TV was allotted 59.2 percent, and government uses got one-quarter.
Television broadcasting had become the FCC’s mission, and land mobile was a lark. Yet Americans could have enjoyed all the broadcasts they would watch in, say, 1960 and had cellular phone service too. Instead, TV was allocated far more bandwidth than it ever used, with enormous deserts of vacant television assignments—a vast wasteland, if you will—blocking mobile wireless for more than a generation.
Fascist Communications Club Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was granted a monopoly on electromagnetic spectrum by the United States government (or, in other words. the government granted a monopoly to itself). Through this monopoly the FCC enjoyed and still enjoys life or death powers over a great deal of technology. Back in 1947 when AT&T wanted to develop cellular technology the FCC decided the technology should die. As television became more popular the FCC decided that the technology should live. It didn’t matter that there was enough spectrum for both technologies to coexist, the FCC wanted one to live and the other to die so it was made so.
The FCC’s power isn’t unique, it’s the inevitable result of any monopolized authority. Cannabis, a plant that shows a great deal of promise in the medical field, is prohibited because the United States government has a monopoly on what you can and cannot legally put into your own body. A lot of drugs and other medical technologies either don’t make it into the United States or are delayed for years because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been given a monopoly on deciding which medical technologies are legal and illegal.