Following the Titanic disaster, Marconi operators blamed amateur transmitters for much of the confusion which had occurred in trying to gather information. At the time, radio in the United States was largely unregulated. However, it was the Marconi company which had been most vocal in opposing government regulation. As this article predicted, the situation had to change, and, in August, 1912, the United States enacted a comprehensive "Act to Regulate Radio Communication".
An overview of the 1906 and 1912 international conferences, and their relation to early U.S. radio legislation, is located at Early Government Regulation section.
New York Herald, April 17, 1912, page 2:
President Moves to Stop Mob Rule of Wireless
Mr. Taft, His Cabinet, Army and Navy and Other Experts Confer on Scheme for Worldwide Regulation of Service to Prevent Interference in Times of Disaster.
No. 1,502 H STREET, N. W.,
WASHINGTON, D. C., Tuesday.
President Taft presided at a conference at the White House this afternoon to urge the regulation of wireless telegraphy in conformity with international regulations, but found little necessity for argument, for the staggering disaster of the Titanic, coupled with the wireless chaos concerning relief work and accurate reports, was in itself a demonstration which will serve for all time to show that regulation is imperative.
At the conference were the President, Mr. Meyer, Secretary of the Navy; Mr. Stimson, Secretary of War; Mr. Nagel, Secretary of Commerce and Labor; Hutch I. Cone, Engineer in Chief of the Navy; Brigadier General James Allen, Chief Signal Officer of the army, and Messrs. John W. Griggs and James R. Sheffield of New York, representing the Marconi and other wireless interests.
The conference was arranged for some time ago to give the commercial wireless experts a chance to be heard by the President concerning the advantage or disadvantage of wireless regulation according the government's ideas. Mr. Griggs had been the champion of the Commercial Wireless Company's interest for several years and his untiring efforts have defeated ratification of the Berlin wireless convention of 1906 in the Senate until about two weeks ago, when the Berlin convention was ratified. If Mr. Griggs had not lost his opposition to regulation of wireless before last night he lost it then. The Titanic disaster has fairly swept off their feet those opposing wireless regulation.
Regulation Now Imperative.
The necessity for regulation to-day stands out so clear that the White House conference found no time to discuss it at all. Instead the discussion was merely general, with admission by all that the chaos in the wireless field was a disgrace to the nation, and that severe penalties should be prescribed for infringements taking place at a great crisis on the seas like the disaster of yesterday.
The President himself had the consequences of this chaos brought home to him in a gruelling and unwelcome fashion to-day when he groped through a maze of wireless messages communicated to the White House from various sources in a vain endeavor to hear news concerning his military aid, Major Butt, on board the ill fated ship. There were upward of a hundred messages received at the White House to-day, but some were incomplete, others were garbled, many were apparently unreliable and few could be relied upon.
From the offices of the White Star line came reports to the President that it was practically impossible to get any reliable information by wireless because of the great number of wireless concerns breaking into the field and because of the work of amateur operators.
Amateurs Break In.
It appears that the disaster to the Titanic had no sooner been flashed over the seas than about every wireless instrument along the coast within range began operations, sending and receiving with no thought of others, so that the net result soon became a hopeless jumble, from which distorted and inaccurate messages were patched up in haphazard fashion and announced to the anxious world.
It is believed here that this chaos was responsible for the messages that were flashed from one end of the civilized world to the other that the Titanic was en route for Halifax under her own steam at six o'clock at night when as a matter of fact the vessel had been sixteen hours at the bottom of the sea. This same chaos is held responsible for the reports that passengers were being calmly taken off the ship in the afternoon, when the ship really went down at twenty minutes past two o'clock in the morning. The same chaos is held responsible here for the maze of garbled reports which now are as tragic as they are ludicrous. Indeed, officials here comment on the fact that the hundreds of lives on board the Titanic were at the mercy of the unscrupulous wireless operators, who might even have called off the vessels that started for her relief by adding to their list of criminal messages one saying that the ship was safe and needed no assistance at all.
"If there ever was a demonstration that regulation of wireless is necessary, this is it." said Hutch I. Cone at the White House to-day just before the wireless conference.
Calls It an Outrage.
"This wireless chaos that places human lives at the mercy of irresponsible operators who are beyond control of the government or any regulation is particularly outrageous at such a time as this. It is precisely what is bound to happen when there is no regulation by law, and it will happen again unless some means of regulation is prescribed."
Mr. Stimson, Secretary of War, reinforced this view as he was leaving the White House.
"This shows unmistakably what happens at a time like this when there is no control of wireless," said he, "and it demonstrates infallibly that regulation of wireless is necessary."
Brigadier General Allen has the same view. He has been fighting for regulation of wireless since 1906 when he signed the Berlin convention as one of the delegates of the United States. Eugene B. Chamberlain, Commissioner of Navigation, in his annual report sets forth the need for wireless regulation concisely. He says in part.--
"The need for regulation arises primarily from the fact that wireless messages interfere with one another, so that important despatches on public business may be obstructed by the mischievous efforts of a tyro. Land telegraph lines cannot be set in operation anywhere without some official sanction for the erection of poles and stringing of wires, although one wire does not interfere with another. A fine of $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than three years is provided by section 60 of the Penal Code of 1909 for interference with messages over government wires.
"Faking" Distress of Ships.
"The ether is common property, and with the cheapest apparatus unrestrained trivial messages can create babel. Again, bogus wireless messages may be sent by the reckless, and some have gone to the criminal length of 'faking' the distress call of a passenger ship at sea."
The Senate has now ratified the Berlin convention, and the United States will be represented at the International Radio Telegraphic Conference to be held at London on June 4, 1912. The question of legislation to regulate wireless in the United States in conformity with the International agreement between nations is now being considered.
Several bills are pending in Congress and it is believed that the regulations will be made severe enough to guarantee that ships in distress cannot be thrown at the mercy of amateur or irresponsible operators with impunity. Likewise President Taft and government officials expect to see the opposition of commercial wireless companies to effective regulation crumple up before overwhelming public opinion should this opposition manifest itself in the future as it has in the past.