Google Puts Its Money Where Its Mouth Is On Open-Access Wireless
from the open-the-wallet dept
Google has been one of the leading voices in the call for the FCC to adopt “open access” rules for winners of spectrum licenses in the upcoming 700 MHz auction. The auction, slated for late this year or early 2008, is a big deal because of the huge amount of spectrum on offer, as well as its propagation characteristics, which makes it ideally suited for high-speed broadband services. Google and a number of consumer groups have put forth a four-point open access plan to the FCC, and the Commission’s chairman, Kevin Martin, appears to have met them halfway. Incumbent operators were, unsurprisingly, not happy with the plan, though AT&T now says it supports it. But Google and the consumer groups weren’t satisfied with Martin’s proposal either, mainly because it didn’t include a provision that would force license winners to sell wholesale access to their networks on a non-discriminatory basis, and they see this as a crucial step in encouraging competition in the broadband space.
One of the telcos’ responses to Martin’s proposal was that putting restrictions and rules on license winners would hamper bidding and hold down the revenues the auction would generate. Now, in an effort to allay those fears, Google says that if the FCC adopts its four-point plan, it will commit to bidding $4.6 billion in the auction. It’s been rumored for some time that Google was interested in getting its hands on some of the 700 MHz spectrum, and it’s even talked about a model for real-time spectrum auctions. Still, saying the company’s willing to pony up the reserve price for the auction doesn’t make it certain that Google will come away with spectrum licenses, since the cost of the licenses will undoubtedly go beyond it — nor is it even certain that Martin and the FCC will care about Google’s pledge all that much. But this should be seen as a signal that Google wants to play ball, and that will cause some concern among incumbent operators. Even if Google itself doesn’t come away with spectrum, it’s possible it could help fund another bidder’s efforts and help create a significant competitor in the wireless and broadband markets.