In 1985, the Federal Communications Commission permitted, for the first time, low-powered wireless communications equipment to be used without the need for a license. The prospects for this experiment were not entirely promising. The bands of radio spectrum assigned for unlicensed use were full of powerful and polluting industrial uses and were thus widely considered “junk spectrum,” unsuitable for communications.
However, the potential rewards offered by this new, unlicensed spectrum were also great: Citizens and businesses might have the freedom to deploy their own wireless networks without the need for costly and bureaucratic spectrum licences, encouraging a deluge of technological and business model innovation, transforming this onetime “junk spectrum” into the most economically productive radio spectrum in the world, and becoming home to an incredible diversity of coexisting uses. Unsurprisingly, the unlicensed bands have been adopted worldwide.
These rewards became a reality and now the power of this unlicensed economy is clearly reflected in the present-day Internet and its future trajectory.