Google forces the door on Verizon’s open access plans

Google has forced a guarantee from Verizon Wireless that the US carrier will abide by the open access requirements on its recently won 700MHz spectrum.

Prior to the start of the US 700MHz spectrum auction, it became well known that Verizon was very unhappy about the open access provisions on the C block of spectrum. The carrier even tried to sue the Federal Communications Commission over the rules it believed to be “arbitrary and capricious, unsupported by substantial evidence and otherwise contrary to law.”

But under pressure from open access lobbyists such as Google, Verizon was forced to concede and even kick started its own open access initiative, promising to allow customers to use any wireless device, software and applications, even those not offered by the company itself, on its network by the end of 2008.

Since Verizon won the C block of spectrum however, Google has sown seeds of doubt about the company’s commitment to open access. The Big G recently filed a document with the FCC calling on the watchdog to ensure all parties sharing an interest in the promise of open networks have a common understanding regarding Verizon’s compliance with the requirements.

In the document, Google makes reference to the “uncertainty Verizon has introduced publicly regarding its compliance with the open access obligations,” specifically citing something it calls Verizon’s ‘two door policy’. Apparently customers wishing to access the open platform using a device not purchased from Verizon would go through “Door No. 1,” while customers who obtain their device from Verizon would be allowed access through “Door No. 2,” which would be a violation of the open access requirements.

Verizon’s media relations manager, Jim Gerace, said Wednesday that “Google’s filing has no legal basis,” and said that the company was somehow trying to “change rules, after-the-fact, of the recently-completed 700 MHz spectrum auction.”

Nevertheless, Verizon confirmed, “Of course we’ll abide by those rules. As we work to put the spectrum we won to good use, if Google or anybody else has evidence that we aren’t playing by the rules, there are legitimate and expedited ways to address that.”

Verizon spent $9.4bn on the 700MHz spectrum, after Google committed to spending $4.6bn to trigger the open access requirements. It is widely believed that this was Google’s aim and it had no intention of winning the spectrum. Indeed, Google has probably achieved its aim this time round, by poking a stick into Verizon’s cage, and coaxing the operator into giving a public committment to open access. After all, in the wake of the Sprint / Clearwire announcement yesterday, it looks like Google might have a lot of gadgets running its software floating around in the US in the not too distant future.

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