Google has alerted the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it will invest at least $4.6 billion in wireless licenses if the FCC follows through on a plan to allow open wireless access in an available portion of the US wireless spectrum. The FCC is preparing to auction off about one-third of the wireless spectrum in the United States, and Google wants to ensure that the bandwidth is open to any user, any device, and any software, unlike today's system where wireless carriers use draconian restrictions to lock in users and lock out competition.
"In the US, \[the\] wireless spectrum for mobile phones and data is controlled by a small group of companies, leaving consumers with very few service providers from which to choose," Google Head of Special Initiatives Chris Sacca notes in the company's corporate blog. "As the federal government prepares for what is arguably its most significant auction of wireless spectrum in history, we urge the FCC to adopt rules to make sure that regardless of who wins the spectrum at auction, consumers' interests are the top priority."
Google would like to ensure that consumers have a choice of applications, devices, services, and networks within this wireless spectrum. Google, of course, is a maker of Internet-based applications and services and would benefit from consumers being able to choose their products. But the real beneficiaries would be consumers, who in the United States enjoy far less freedom, fewer capabilities, and higher costs than consumers in other major wireless markets such as Europe and Asia.
Currently, the FCC's draft rules for the auction will require some but not all of the types of open platforms that Google is seeking. Google says that only by adopting all four of these open platforms will the United States be able experience a competitive landscape similar to those found elsewhere. Google says it will not invest in this spectrum unless the FCC adopts all four of its open platform requirements.
Wireless carriers, of course, are lobbying strenuously against Google. Companies such as Verizon and AT&T Wireless bilk US consumers out of millions of dollars each year by tying them into expensive two-year contracts and limiting the selection of devices, services, and applications that can access their networks. These companies complain that opening up their networks will cause reliability problems, and they fear that adopting the open platforms suggested by Google will amount to what Verizon calls "corporate welfare for Google." AT&T Wireless says that an FCC endorsement of Google's rules will ensure that very few companies will attempt to compete for the wireless spectrum, effectively limiting choice.
The charges levied at Google by Verizon and AT&T Wireless are old-fashioned self-protectionism, of course: By adopting an open airwaves requirement, the FCC can reverse a long-standing problem in this country and let consumers in the United States enjoy the basic wireless communication freedom that consumers enjoy in other countries.