Google to bid for 700MHz spectrum

Google intends to bid on wireless spectrum in 2008.

Google intends to bid on wireless spectrum in the 700MHz band when the US Federal Communications Commission begins auctioning that resource in late January, the company announced Friday.

Google has previously expressed interest in the spectrum, which is being made available as US television stations move to all-digital broadcasts by February 2009. Earlier this year, Google joined consumer and public-interest groups in calling for the FCC to impose open-access rules on part of the 62MHz of spectrum to be auctioned. In July, the FCC voted to require open-access rules, which would require the winning bidder to allow outside devices and applications on the network.

"We believe it's important to put our money where our principles are," Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman and CEO, said in a statement. "Consumers deserve more competition and innovation than they have in today's wireless world. No matter which bidder ultimately prevails, the real winners of this auction are American consumers who likely will see more choices than ever before in how they access the Internet."

Consumers will be the winners in the auction, Chris Sacca, Google's head of special initiatives, wrote on the company's public policy blog.

"This is because the eventual winner of a key portion of this spectrum will be required to give its customers the right to download any application they want on their mobile device, and the right to use any device they want on the network," Sacca wrote. "That's meaningful progress in our ongoing efforts to help transform the relatively closed wireless world to be more like the open realm of the Internet."

Google's recently acquired interest in wireless spectrum has led it in several directions. The company launched the Open Handset Alliance, an open-development platform for mobile phones, earlier this month.

Google has also supported efforts to push Congress to pass net neutrality requirements, which would prohibit broadband providers from blocking or slowing Web content not approved by them. Google's interest in the spectrum came after AT&T and other large broadband providers expressed interest in recent years in getting Web-based businesses to pay more for their customers' use of the broadband networks.

Google will file an application to participate in the 700MHz auction on Monday, the company said in a news release. Google's application will not include any partners.

In July, Google promised the FCC that it would bid at least US$4.6 billion for a block of spectrum. The FCC later set a reserve price of US$4.6 billion on the so-called C Block of spectrum, the 22MHz block where the commission required open access. If the reserve price isn't met, the FCC would re-auction the spectrum, presumably without the open-access rules.

"Regardless of how the auction unfolds, we think it's important to put our money where our principles are," Sacca said. "Consumers deserve more choices and more competition than they have in the wireless world today. And at a time when so many Americans don't have access to the Internet, this auction provides an unprecedented opportunity to bring the riches of the Net to more people."

Free Press, a media reform group, cheered Google's decision to bid. Combined with Verizon Wireless' announcement this week that it would open its network to outside devices and applications, the Google move will give more choices to consumers, said Ben Scott, Free Press' public policy director.

"Incumbent phone companies claimed that open access conditions would undercut competition -- but the opposite is true," Scott said in an e-mail. "Open networks mean more competition. Google's intent to bid in the 700 Mhz auction and Verizon's sudden support for open networks suggest that we may finally see the competitive wireless marketplace that consumers demand."

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service

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