Monday, July 23, 2007

Google In The Air

Spectrum Auctions
Google In The Air
Brian Caulfield

Burlingame, Calif. -

Forget Apple and its iPhone. Lately, the wireless industry's real live wire isn't Steve Jobs and his hot-selling ├╝ber-gadget--it's online search company Google. And a long-rumored phone from the search giant is the least of the industry's worries.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has been on a campaign to reshape the rules of the wireless world. Its latest move: Google said Friday that if the Federal Communications Commission agrees to four conditions, it will spend at least $4.6 billion in the federal government's upcoming wireless spectrum auction.

The stakes are high: The spectrum being sold is the good stuff. It's being given up by broadcasters as they shift from analog to digital broadcasting. And with the FCC set to create the rules for the spectrum auction sometime in the next month, time is running out for those looking to shape the rules of the high-stakes spectrum grab. (See "Broadband's Big Auction.")

As a result, Google is spreading the rhetoric thick. "[When] Americans can use the software and handsets of their choice, over open and competitive networks, they win," Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt wrote in the letter to the FCC outlining his offer to put big bucks behind Google's demands.

Schmidt's motive: Whether or not a Google phone is in the works (and if you watch Google's hiring patterns, there's good reason to believe something's up; see "How to Spy on Google"), Google surely wants to make the wireless industry--which it has yet to crack--more like the Internet. Google has thrived online by offering online searches to consumers who can access its software and services from a plethora of carriers via their personal computers.

As a result, earlier this month, Google asked the FCC to adopt four rules to be applied to a chunk of the spectrum being sold off. Specifically, Google is asking the government to require that carriers let users download any software, content or services they want; use whatever device they want with the spectrum; sell access to the spectrum to other companies on a wholesale basis; and allow third parties to connect with the licensee's network.

Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin agreed with two of the four conditions: that any device can be attached to the network and that any software application can be used over the network. Google, however, clearly wants more.

Google's latest move will address the concern that attaching too many restrictions on the spectrum would drive away any bidders: if the FCC agrees with Google, that spectrum will be sold. Google's opponents in the telecommunications industry, however, argue that the conditions are just a ploy to drive down the price of the spectrum.

Possibly. But what's for certain is that if Google's conditions are met, the wireless carriers will have a much more interesting set of problems on their hands than what to do about the iPhone.

No comments: