Google’s recent insertion into the FCC’s bidding process for the soon to be available 700MHz radio spectrum promises a potential boon to mobile users here in the US. For those who haven’t been following this story, here’s a quick backgrounder.
In 2009 when the government mandated final switch to digital from analog broadcasting goes into place, the 700MHz spectrum that analog TV signals travel on will be available. That spectrum is valuable real estate for a number of reasons. One is that it can travel through walls. (Think of your TV reception for those who remember or still use an antenna on their rooftop.) The FCC will auction off that spectrum for the US Government and it is expected to fetch billions of dollars because the opportunities to make fortunes are obvious.
Enter Google. They pledged to enter the auction at a minimum of $4.6 billion as long as several conditions were applied to the spectrum. Most importantly for mobile users, Google’s “conditions” were that the spectrum be open: open access, open applications, open networks, and open services.
Yesterday the FCC voted and announced the rules that will be applied to the auction. Google got some of what it wanted. One-third of the spectrum will be open so there will be some form of open access available. The FCC will will also be supporting open devices and open applications. It also needs to be said that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin had been making noise about some form of open access as well.
Here’s why this is important. The companies we currently purchase cellphones and wireless services from don’t want to see any form of open access. The FCC has decided in favor of the consumer here because this means at least a part of the spectrum will support open devices allowing customers to have an option to not be locked into a carrier like AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint.
Of course we are a long way from knowing how this will play out exactly. Some say Google now won’t bid on this and who knows who will have the winning bid in the end. But at least the stage is set for some important change that should benefit consumers more than the controlling interests.