By Michal Lev-Ram
YOU’RE BACKING INTO THE STORY. WE DON’T LEARN WHAT GOOGLE IS DOING UNTIL THE END OF THE SECOND GRAPH. Now that the Federal Communications Commission’s high-profile spectrum auction is over, it’s clear that Google got what it wanted — a more “open” network that will provide access for all devices and services, paid for courtesy of Verizon Wireless.But that doesn’t mean that the Mountain View, Calif.-based company’s lobbying efforts are over.
Not only is Google (GOOG) now on a campaign to get the FCC to use so-called “white space” — airwaves found between broadcast channels — for mobile broadband services, but the search company also says it is looking for opportunities to become involved in spectrum policy around the globe.
Google’s telecom and media counsel Richard Whitt told Fortune that the company wants to “ensure that the wireless world looks more like the Web” and is prepared to to become involved in the policy realm wherever it makes sense (the company wouldn’t comment on which countries or regions it is looking into).
The wireless ecosystem has traditionally been much more tightly controlled than the Web — while Internet service providers have no say over which devices or sites are used on the online access they provide, many mobile operators only allow their own branded phones to run on their network and block “unauthorized” third-party applications.
Why is Google so concerned about making the wireless world more open? Because making cellular networks “agnostic” to outside devices and services would help Google more easily spread its applications (and upcoming Android devices) without having to worry about how to get around carriers’ so-called walled garden.
Relative to established wireless players like AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ), Google is new to lobbying, both in the United States and in other countries. The company didn’t even have an official presence in Washington D.C. until 2005, when it opened a local lobbying office. But last summer it made waves by pressuring the FCC to impose more open conditions on a portion of soon-to-be-available spectrum, saying it would put up the reserve price needed to secure the new standards if they were adopted. Now the company is saying that, although it ended up bidding $4.7 billion for the airwaves, its primary objective coming into the auction was to make sure the open conditions were triggered, and it was pretty sure Verizon wasn’t going to let them win.
But while it appears Google never intended to win even a single spectrum license, the company is very happy to reap the benefits of the auction. It says it’s pleased that Verizon — which was the biggest winner in the FCC auction and now has to shell out over $9 billion for its new airwaves — will be the one building out the “open access” network, expected to launch sometime in 2010.
In the meantime, Google is busy scoping out the next “frontier for spectrum policy” around the globe.
According to Whitt, Google’s telecom and media counsel: “The 700MHz auction was just the beginning of the conversation, not the end.”