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FCC Calls Google’s Bluff

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If Google wants to see the winner of the 700MHz spectrum adhere to its four proposed openness conditions, Google will have to push its money into the pot. That isn’t going to happen.

FCC Calls Google's Bluff
FCC Calls Google’s Bluff

The Federal Communications Commission picked two of the four recommendations as conditions for the wireless auction scheduled to take place in 2008. Google had offered to bid a minimum price of $4.6 billion on the available spectrum if the FCC made the four conditions binding across all bidders.

Richard Whitt noted on the Google Public Policy blog how the FCC agreed that two of Google’s suggestions merited adoption for the auction:

In essence, the FCC embraced two of the four openness conditions that we suggested several weeks ago: (1) open applications, the right of consumers to download and utilize any software applications or content they desire; and (2) open devices, the right of consumers to utilize their handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer. We understand that the Commission also may have added real teeth to these two requirements, by plugging some of the more obvious loopholes and giving consumers a tangible remedy for any carrier violations.

Just two months ago, the notion that the FCC would take such a big step forward to give consumers meaningful choice through this auction seemed unlikely at best.

It’s a weak win for consumers. People can download what they like and use whatever phone they desire on their choice of AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, or T-Mobile. Not that great a deal from a cursory look.

Just because someone can download Skype doesn’t mean they can use it on a wireless carrier’s network. Just because a network that wouldn’t normally let you have a Nokia N95 has to allow it doesn’t mean they can’t throttle its video uploading capabilities into tiers of service.

Google has already demonstrated they aren’t going to go through with taking part in the auction. The FCC’s rejection of two of Google’s four conditions gives Google a ready-made reason not to bid $4.6 billion on an auction that’s likely to hit $15 billion anyway.

The search company will have to decide just how badly it wants to drive the innovation and benefits from open wireless access. Google has a toe in the high-speed wireless water with its WiMAX portal deal with Sprint; that’s more important than the wireless projects Google has going in its home base of Mountain View.

WiMAX has been touted as the next great thing for at least the past two years when it comes to broadband wireless solutions. Sprint seems ready to deliver, with Google tagging along. If WiMAX lives up to its hype, we think Google will make the big wireless/GPhone play we’ve been expecting them to make.

FCC Calls Google’s Bluff
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