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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/17635/how-the-titanic-sank-radio-freedom/

How the Titanic sank radio freedom

July 8, 2011 by

Most people regard amateur radio is a very niche hobby performed in basements on equipment that hasn’t changed much during the last 100 years. But this wasn’t always the case. As Ars Technica reports, during the early 20th century, wireless radio was the latest in high tech and popular songs and plays were written about radio boys who provided critical communications links.

But it was not to last. Shortly after the Titanic disaster, many major newspapers accused “outside unrecognized stations” of spreading misinformation about the disaster. A few months later, The Radio Act of 1912 was passed, which for the first time imposed severe restrictions on non-commercrial operators. In 1927, the licensing requirements were extended to commercial operators as well. It later came out that the Senate Commerce Committee had the new law prepared well in advance and used the Titanic incident to gather public support for its passing. Of course, through all the regulations, the State was granted best frequencies and exempted from the licensing burden.

So was the Radio Act of 1912 motivated by a concern for public safety, a desire by corporate media to squeeze out amateur competitors, a government power grab over an emerging medium, or a legitimate technical problem? We’ll never know for sure, but it is interesting that from the earliest days of radio to FDR’s thought police, to today’s “wardrobe malfunctions,” regulations of the airwaves has been as much to do with controlling information as technical challenges.


Joshua July 8, 2011 at 7:49 am

There’s a lot of talk now by the MSM to make you have to have a license to use the internet or at least to engage in “journalism”. In other words, they are looking for ways to crowd out competitors in order to prop up their tired old business model.

Carson July 8, 2011 at 10:28 am

American radio frequency airwaves were originally open & free to everyone, similar to the internet today.

But indeed the federal Radio Act of 1912 blatantly & illegally seized half the useable RF spectrum for the government/military. A shameful pattern of Federal bullying and special-interest corrupt regulation followed … resulting in the ‘Radio Act of 1927′ establishing the Federal Radio Commission bureaucracy (…now the FCC).

The airwaves were simply declared public property under Commission control… pure socialism– with no Constitutional basis.

Same thing will happen to the internet within 15 years.

Most Americans assume government ownership of communications frequencies is somehow a fundamental
principle of human society… rather than its true history as seedy special interest politics.

American radio frequency airwaves were originally open to all, mostly used for wireless telegraphy. But the U.S. Navy sought control of those ‘waves’ — The Radio Act of 1912 blatantly seized half the useable spectrum for the government/military. Private stations could use the rest only with a Federal “license” from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Radio voice broadcasts began in 1920 with 576 licensed stations.

By 1922, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover started colluding with major commercial broadcasters… and then began to sharply restrict new licenses, claiming the need to prevent interference among broadcasters. He also ‘assumed’ authority to dictate radio broadcast times, frequencies and geographic locations. In 1925 he and the major broadcasters advocated a “public interest” standard for licensing –and then stopped issuing any licenses at all, claiming the frequency spectrum was full. Legal battles ensued.

But special interests triumphed with the ‘Radio Act of 1927′ establishing the Federal Radio Commission bureaucracy (…later became FCC). The airwaves were declared public property under Commission control… which issued ‘temporary’ licenses only to those willing to broadcast “in the public interest” — exactly as the dominant major radio broadcasters had wanted.

Federal government seizure of internet control will soon follow the same pattern.

Jim P. July 8, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Agreed. Federal regulation of the internet is extremely unpopular now – but wait until some little real or imagined “disaster” pops up. People will accept it as a necessary Protection.

Stephan Kinsella July 10, 2011 at 10:38 am

Interesting how what could have been a common law developed field of private law has been coopted by the state–see the work of David Kelley and Roger Donway, Laissez Parler, and B.K. Marcus, linked here http://blog.mises.org/10433/why-airwaves-electromagnetic-spectra-are-arguably-property/. And the state also, except on private land in the states in the US, claims all around the world to own oil & gas underground. They coopt so much: banking, law, justice, defense, money, healthcare, transportation, communication, education (as Hoppe discusses in his great Banking, Nation States article). It’s terrible and disgusting.

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