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Business - Written by on Tuesday, August 7, 2007 1:53 - 0 Comments

Derek Pokora
The Future of Open Access Internet

Upon viewing Henry Rollins’ unabashed rant posted by Anthony, I couldn’t help but think of the future of the internet when faced with Google’s recent statement that it will bid at least $4.6 billion in the auction to obtain the 700 MHz Band spectrum. This spectrum, which runs from 698-806 MHz, is currently occupied by television broadcasters and will be reallocated for other wireless services due to television broadcasters vacating the bandwidth to move to digital television. This leaves, quite possibly, the most valuable available slice of radio-frequency spectrum up for grabs in America.

Google’s prospective bid on the spectrum, however, is contingent on open access requirements. Google said it would participate in the auction only if the FCC adopted conditions ensuring that consumers could use any applications or devices and that third-party providers could freely buy spectrum and interconnect with the network at any technically feasible point.

The question is why would Google impose such a stipulation when it could simply implement these restrictions once it won the auction?
Google wanted the FCC to impose these requirements so that, regardless of who wins in the auction, Google will get what it wants. Open access. This would allow new market entrants to compete against incumbent cell phone carriers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless. To go out on a limb, let’s say that maybe Google would want to get in on the wireless game. But that doesn’t sound like Google at all, does it? Whatever Google’s exact motives are, head of special initiatives at Google, Chris Sacca states,

“We’re putting consumers’ interests first and putting our money where our principles are — to the tune of $4.6 billion.”

AT&T isn’t so hot on the idea, as executive VP of external and legislative affairs, Jim Cicconi has stated,

“We would repeat that Google should put up or shut up — they can bid and enter the wireless market with any business model they prefer, then let consumers decide which model they like best.”

Verizon, on the other hand, grudgingly shifted its position in a defensive reaction once it recognized a consensus was emerging at the FCC in the direction of open access, stating that if the FCC persisted in imposing such rules, it should preserve customers’ ability to choose to have the same kind of relationship with a carrier that the customer enjoys today.

Regardless of the their stances on the issue, Verizon and AT&T will have to rethink their plans, as democratic members of the FCC have shown support for the open access initiative. FCC Chair Kevin Martin compromised by proposing approximately one-third of the airwaves sold would require buyers to offer open network access.

In a Press Statement released by the FCC on July 21, 2007 here, the FCC ruled:

“The licensees of the Upper 700 MHz Band C Block of spectrum will be required to provide a platform that is more open to devices and applications. This would allow consumers to use the handset of their choice and download and use the applications of their choice in this spectrum block, subject to certain reasonable network management conditions that allow the licensee to protect the network from harm.”

Although Google did not receive the exact ruling it was looking for, it is still interested in bidding. It won’t be too long before we will find out who comes out on top, as the FCC is required to commence the auction by January 28, 2008. Despite Google receiving the majority of media coverage on this issue in the United States due to its bold move, the same issue is currently being debated here in Canada as well with the oligopoly between Rogers, Bell, and Telus.

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