GOOGLE AND WIRELESS BROADBAND

In 2009, new frequencies will become available in the US for handling voice and data. The frequencies are currently being used for analog television, but the FCC decided years ago that analog television would no longer be supported after 2009; the frequencies are being reclaimed and resold in an FCC auction.

A few days ago Google bid $4.6 billion dollars, the reserve price, for the 700Mhz band frequencies. Google’s bid included a request that the FCC put conditions on any bid that might be successful:

‘Google “requested that the Commission should extend to all CMRS-type spectrum licensees clearly delineated, explicitly enforceable, and unwavering obligations to provide (1) open applications, (2) open devices, (3) open wholesale services, and (4) open network access.” For those of us who don’t regularly hang with the FCC these proposed conditions mean: 1) users should be able to download software from anywhere and use it on their communication devices without restriction; 2) users should be able to use any communication device that meets the technical requirements for connecting to the network no matter who made the device; 3) third-party resellers should be able to buy wholesale bandwidth from auction winners, and; 4) other networks should be able to connect to the 700-MHz network.’

Although the major telcos and cable companies have made noises about supporting these goals, the reality is that they will never allow anything like this to become possible. US voice and broadband availability, speed, and pricing is built on the greed and selfishness of the telcos and cable companies, who have thrived on long-term contracts, closed networks, proprietary devices – every conceivable trick to restrict our choices and lock us in to a particular company. It would be a much different world if we could buy cell phones freely and activate them with any carrier, for example (ask the iPhone users stuck with Cingular). Or if VOIP – using the Internet to carry voice phone calls – was fully integrated into our devices, instead of being restricted from most mobile networks. Or if wide-area wireless Internet coverage was made available by cities, reducing the need for expensive DSL or cable connections.

This article discusses the Google bid and makes an interesting point. The telcos and cable companies can issue all the press releases they like about their support of Google’s proposal, but there are two fundamental truths in the universe: (1) they will never allow those proposals to be realized, and (2) they will never allow Google to purchase these frequencies, no matter what they have to spend.

There is ample evidence from the last hundred years in this country that the telcos and cable companies are mean and spiteful. “The telcos and cable companies are far more skilled and cunning when it comes to lobbying and controlling politicians than Google can ever hope to be. The telcos have spent more than a century at this game and Google hasn’t even been in it for a decade. And Google’s pockets are no deeper than those of the other potential bidders.”

The columnist even speculates that they have ways of getting their revenge at Google for having the audacity to suggest that there be open competition. The ISPs have many means at their disposal to direct traffic away from Google; the most obvious is to change the defaults in the software distributed to new subscribers.

This will be an interesting battle to watch, but it’s hard to be optimistic that the result will change anything for the better in this country.