Google Vows Broader Open Wireless Access Fight

By Kenneth Corbin

April 04, 2008

Now free to speak its mind, the search leader pledges to continue working for wireless network openness, while debate remains heated about FCC oversight.

Though it didn't win any licenses in the Federal Communications Commission's recent multi-billion-dollar spectrum auction, Google said it is pleased with the results -- and vows to continue pressing for greater network openness.

The comments come as the first from the online giant following the end of a federally mandated quiet period that now leaves participants in the FCC's 700MHz spectrum auction free to dish on the their bidding strategies and future plans.

For Google, (NASDAQ: GOOG) those plans involve working with regulators as the FCC decides how to address issues lingering in the wake of the largest spectrum sell-off in history.

"The end of the auction certainly doesn't mark the end of our efforts toward greater wireless choice and innovation," Richard Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel, and Joseph Farber, Google's corporate counsel, wrote yesterday in a company blog post.

While Verizon Wireless walked away the winning bidder in the spectrum's premium C Block, Google's participation proved instrumental. The company's bidding helped to trigger rules requiring the block's winner to open the network they create to all types of devices and applications.

Fiercely resisted by Verizon, the FCC's open-access requirements were a key victory for Google, which is working to build support for its Android mobile application platform through the Open Handset Alliance.

While Google remained tight-lipped on its intentions heading into the auction, many observers believed the company's motivations were less about spending billions on licenses to build a nationwide wireless network, and more about forcing open access.

Whitt and Farber this week confirmed those suspicions.

"Google's top priority heading into the auction was to make sure that bidding on the so-called 'C Block' reached the $4.6 billion reserve price that would trigger the important 'open applications' and 'open handsets' license conditions," they wrote.

To ensure C Block bidding hit the necessarily price, Google raised its bid in 10 rounds of the auction even when it was faced no opposing bidders, Whit and Farber wrote.

They added that Google had been prepared to shell out for the licenses in the event that no one topped its bids.

The open-access game

As it begins the next phase of its network build-out, all eyes now will be on Verizon to ensure that the wireless provider adheres to the openness provisions stipulated in the auction's rules.

Speaking earlier this week at the CTIA Wireless 2008 conference in Las Vegas, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said he would recommend that his fellow commissioners reject a petition to regulate open access. The petition had been submitted by Voice-over-Internet-Protocol provider Skype.

Martin said the incumbent carriers had signaled that they were moving toward openness on their own accord, so adding new regulations would be unnecessary.

Verizon Wireless, for instance, reversed its position on open access late last year, first abandoning its legal challenge to the FCC's auction rules, then pledging to support open device access on its current wireless network in advance of the auction.

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