Will Google Bid On The Wireless Spectrum?
Tomorrow, the FCC will vote on rules, proposed by Chairman Kevin Martin, governing the auction of the 700 MHz band of wireless spectrum. Trying its best to persuade the commission to endorse neutrality in the airwaves, similar to what many want to happen with the Internet, Google succeeded in getting at least two of its four wishes granted.
And that’s not bad considering the company only spent $770,000 lobbying, compared to AT&T and Verizon’s combined $35 million, if there was ever any wonder why the government seems more willing to listen to the telecoms.
(Did you know that when Superman debuted in comics in 1938, his chief foes were slick Washington lobbyists? Nice to see we’ve progressed.)
What’s even more interesting than that to me is the telecoms’ chief comeback against Net Neutrality arguments was that the cause was well-funded by Internet giants, making it sound like they couldn’t compete financially. Puh-lease!
Seen as the last line of defense against the telecommunications industry’s desire to keep mobile phone subscribers bound in contracts, using select phones, accessing approved websites, downloading approved applications (sounds familiar to the Net Neutrality worries, doesn’t?), Google pledged to bid $4.6 billion on a chunk of the spectrum, but only if all four conditions of openness were met.
This infuriated AT&T, who accused Google of trying to stack the deck in its favor, which is an activity reserved exclusively for AT&T. Google’s proposal, too, could severely affect their business model.
(For a nice explanation of AT&T’s business model, check out Thomas Claburn’s "If AT&T Ran the Highway System." My favorite line: Sales people in AT&T car showrooms would have no idea how the iCar operated.)
But Chairman Martin acquiesced to only two of Google’s stipulations, drafting rules more similar to Cisco’s proposal, unmindful of Cisco’s definite stake in the outcome, which allow consumers to use any device on the network and install applications of their choice.
Verizon got on board with this proposal, as it doesn’t enforce any type of wholesaling requirements, nor does it ensure that providers cannot set controls on what customers can access via wireless devices.
But according to the Washington Post, there may still be hope yet that Google will enter the auction anyway, as the outcome will have a direct impact on its business model (even if the same article flubs a couple of things like the Net Neutrality definition and at what point Google made its offer):
"Google sees network owners as potentially coming between it and its customers, so they realized how critical Washington was to their long-term game plan," said Paul Gallant, a telecom policy analyst with Stanford Group Co.
So maybe, just maybe, there’s still hope that Google, or some Google coalition, will bid in the spectrum auction in early 2008 and create the "third pipe" for some real competition in the wireless sector.