Google has announced that it will invest 4.6 billion dollars to acquire radio frequencies being abandoned by television broadcasts as they turn digital. The frequencies could be used to provide wireless phone and data services.
One caveat: Google is demanding that the FCC make the companies that invest in the new spectrum make products that are open and consumer friendly. From the Boston Globe:
In a letter delivered yesterday to the FCC, Google said it would participate in the wireless spectrum auction if the agency agrees to proposals to ensure open access to wireless networks. Under the Google plan, any company could make hardware and software products that would work on the network and consumers would be free to buy and use these products. In addition, Google wants the FCC to require that network owners offer wholesale access rates to smaller communications firms, which would then be able to resell access to the network. Google also wants a requirement that the network be designed so that any other communications service can easily connect to it.
Google said it is prepared to bid at least $4.6 billion for a slice of the radio spectrum. That could establish Google, now a giant of the Internet, as a major provider of telecom services.
What does this mean for you? If Google is successful, the way you think of your cellphone could change. An open network would mean your phone would be more like your TV or your computer—a device that you can take to whatever telecom company you want… with an open network, Verizon (for example) couldn’t stop you from downloading Google software (for example) and using it on your phone. This could, in essence, turn every phone on the network into a Google phone.
From the New York TImes:
“When you go to Best Buy to buy a TV, they don’t ask whether you have cable or satellite,” said Blair Levin, a former F.C.C. official who is now an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Company. “When you buy a computer, they don’t ask what kind of Internet service you have, and the computer can run any application or service. That doesn’t exist in the wireless world. That’s where Google wants to go with this auction.”
Google has already invested millions of dollars in mobile phone technology, in part, to develop a comprehensive set of software for mobile devices that goes well beyond the mobile search and map services it already offers.
The company has been characteristically circumspect about its mobile plans, and just this week, Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, deflected questions from an analyst about plans for a mobile phone. “We have looked pretty carefully at wireless and are thinking about what we want to do there,” Mr. Schmidt said.
“I want people to have the choice to use our service,” said Chris Sacca, head of special initiatives at Google. “That is something that I fear won’t exist in this space.”
Verizon says an open network is “corporate welfare for Google.” Did they wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?