Google scores as FCC paves way for open access

It looks like Google might end up putting its money where its mouth is, as web companies on Tuesday won the right to access US spectrum coming up for auction later this year.

On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revised its 700MHz band plan and service rules to facilitate the availability of “new and innovative wireless broadband services for consumers.”

The 700MHz band of radio spectrum, is currently occupied by television broadcasters but will be refarmed and auctioned off as part of the switchover to digital broadcasting.

The FCC is required to auction off the spectrum in the 700MHz band no later than January 28, 2008.

Google is one of the biggest backers of open access rights for the spectrum, calling for the spectrum to be used to stimulate more competition in the broadband space.

And while the FCC’s revised auction rules go some way to realising that aim, they stopped short of fulfilling all Google’s demands.

Under the compromise rules, companies that buy the spectrum will have to let customers download and use any device on the network, and access any application, provided they meet certain requirements.

But the auction rules do not support Google’s open services demand, which would allow resellers to acquire wireless services from a 700MHz licensee on a wholesale basis; and open networks, which would allow third parties to interconnect at any technically feasible point in a 700MHz licensee’s wireless network.

In Google’s blog, Richard Whitt, Washington telecom and media counsel for the web giant, said that the FCC’s compromise was encouraging as it “embraced important principles of openness, and endorsed the unfettered workings of the free market for software applications and communications devices.”

But by the same token, Whitt acknowledges that it would have a more complete victory for consumers had the FCC adopted all four of the license conditions that Google advocated, in order to pave the way for the real “third pipe” broadband competition.

“For our part, we will need time to carefully study the actual text of the FCC’s rules, due out in a few weeks, before we can make any definitive decisions about our possible participation in the auction,” said Whitt.

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