The U.S. had already launched into orbit almost a dozen satellites that could help locate its military craft, on land, in the air, or on the sea. But the use of the system was restricted. (It was meant, for instance, to help powerful weapons hit their targets—it wasn’t the sort of tool governments usually want to make publicly available.) Now, Reagan said, as soon as the next iteration of the GPS system was working, it would be available for free.
It took more than $10 billion and until over 10 years for the second version of the U.S.’s GPS system to come fully online. But in 1995, as promised, it was available to private companies for consumer applications. Sort of. The government had built in some protection for itself—”selective availability,” which reserved access to the best, most precise signals for the U.S. military (and anyone it chose to share that power with).