This week marks the 90th anniversary of the Radio Act of 1927, the sweeping federal law championed by Herbert Hoover that first established how radio spectrum—the “economic oxygen” of the emerging information age—would still be governed nearly a century later. Under its edicts, markets would be preempted and no ownership of the “ether” would be permitted. Public administrators would dole out privileges to deploy wireless networks according to the “public interest.”
Today, writes Thomas W. Hazlett, the Radio Act is gasping, choked by its contradictions. Over time, regulatory failure has thankfully given way to more open markets. The evolution of vibrant mobile data networks—nowhere prescribed or mandated in law—is an emphatic endorsement of the power of policy liberalization. Yet the ghost of Herbert Hoover still haunts progress, frequently placing needless obstacles in the path of competitive forces.