Whether or not Google is still bidding in the FCC’s wireless spectrum auction, it has already achieved one of its goals. Because a large swath of spectrum, known as the “C block,” has exceeded its reserve price of $4.6 billion, whoever wins it will have to run their airwaves so that people can use any gadget or software app they want on the network — a provision that Google had lobbied heavily for last year.
So-called “open” access sounds great. Consumers imagine a world where they can buy a new wireless gadget without having to get permission from a wireless carrier, and use it however they like. But it might not be that simple.
That’s because the “C block” isn’t actually a block — right now, it’s split up into 12 regional licenses. And depending on how the bidding proceeds, all 12 of those licenses can be purchased by one bidder, who could use them to stitch together a national network. Or they could end up in the hands of multiple owners.
If the latter happens, “open” airwaves could end up being much more limited. That’s because different companies could use different, incompatible wireless technologies to run their network — meaning that an “open access” gadget that works in New York might not work in Chicago.
That’s still OK with Google, which would rather have more airwaves open than not. But it will be less appealing for consumers, who might be faced with the prospect of buying a wonder-gadget that works in one part of the country, but not another.
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