If you noticed the bit of activity late in the week around
the FCC 700 MHz auction, you noticed Google being big, strong, and, it appears,
not “evil”. In a nutshell, the FCC has some spare bandwidth to sell off now
that TV broadcasters are going digital. Google said it would participate in the
FCC’s auction of the frequencies in the 700 MHz “wireless spectrum” (with its
4.6 billion dollar buy-in) if the Fed made it mandatory that the band remain
open once sold. That means the consumer could use any type of equipment to
access the band. According to Google Chief Exec, and guy with the really fat
wallet, Eric Schmidt, “When Americans can use the software and handsets of
their choice, over open and competitive networks, they win.” He also
stated Google’s desire to see another provision which would require other
companies to be allowed to interconnect “at any technically feasible
point” with the winning bidder’s network.
Hey, anytime somebody speaks out in the best interest of the
public (read, “Me.”) I say great! Let the big guys put some pressure on to make
sure that I get more control over what I want. You go Google! It also really
gets the big wireless companies’ undies in a bunch. That’s just a little bonus.
It’s perfectly logical for Google to get into the wireless
space. They already offer many services in that world. In addition, odds would
be that now is the time to take a shot at it. In fact, consensus by many is
that this auction of such prime “radio” real estate could be the last chance
for a new company to get into wireless against the established players
(AT&T, etc). It also makes sense
that they would want to keep the source open. It’s what they do and they’ve
made some decent scratch doing it.
So let’s say the FCC goes along with the suggestions and
Google goes after the available bandwidth, is this really all bad? Perhaps it’s
time for a new way of doing things. I spent many years dealing with and
watching the aftermath of the auctioning of “move in” frequencies to small
operators. It didn’t turn out well. In fact, it led to a bunch of operators
losing a lot of money trying to compete and ultimately resulted in the Telecom
act of 1996 and the consolidation of radio. And didn’t that turn out well?
Plus, even if Google isn’t the winning bidder maybe a more
open platform would drive the wireless companies to improve they way they do
business. (Hey, maybe I could actually modify my plan without waiting on hold
for 50 minutes listening to that insipid drum progression…Naaaah…that would be
too good to be true.) One thing for sure is, open source and open platforms
have always led to increased innovation in shorter time. C’mon, how long do you
have to get your wireless butt kicked by Luxembourg
before you realize that
some other parts of the world might be on to something?
Look, I’m like you. Anytime one of the big guys steps up and
throws down the glove to the Fed I immediately think, “Hey, what are these guys
up to?” Even when it’s a company that has the phrase “don’t be evil” chiseled
into their foundation. But I also don’t think it will result in anything worse
than what’s happened in the past…and the upside is soooo much better.
Update:Senator Dick Durbin, (D) Illinois hops on the open source train as he looks for input on the nation’s broadband policy. Check out his post and the Legislation 2.0: National Broadband Project. More open source in action.