Google, the New King of Telecom Policy

November 7, 2008

It’s hard to believe that it was just two years ago that Google co-founder Sergey Brin embarrassed himself and the company with a poorly planned attempt at lobbying Capitol Hill. Fast forward to Thursday afternoon, when the chairman of the FCC uncharacteristically hung out with Google co-founder Larry Page, walking reporters and assorted policy wonks through the machinations that led to the FCC’s decision to open up television white spaces as unregulated spectrum, a ruling pushed hard by the Googlers.

The white spaces ruling was just the latest in a string of telecom policy successes for the search giant, making it an easy call to say there’s no company currently better at manipulating regulators than the kids from Mountain View.

Meet the new boss? Google’s Rick Whitt, left, and AT&T’s Jim Cicconi.

While Google’s lead telecom lawyer (”there’s got to be a better word than lobbyist”) Rick Whitt will always point out that his staff is much smaller than the 700-strong legal troops under Jim Cicconi’s command at AT&T, Whitt’s team does have some significant arrows in its quiver which have perhaps accelerated Google’s influence: The passion supplied by geeky billionaires like Page, who can summon “M.I.T. grads who live and breathe radios” from Google’s engineering ranks to geek out with the FCC’s technical staff; the company’s quasi-religious desire to “do good by the Internet,” which still sounds wholesome even as the company admits that such efforts benefit Google on the bottom line; and its apparent disinterest in benefitting directly from legislative or regulatory action, a stance that makes Google much different from traditional telecom players whose lobbying efforts are almost always directly tied to profits.

Read the rest of this entry »

FCC Approves Clearwire-Sprint Merger, 5-0

November 4, 2008

In the first unanimous result of election day, the FCC has apparently approved the pending Clearwire-Sprint WiMax merger, meaning the only obstacles left are the shareholder votes, which are already scheduled for later this month.

More info as press releases become available, plus perhaps some thoughts on the FCC’s approval of unlicensed use of the so-called “white spaces” for broadband access. For some good deep analysis of white spaces, see Drew Clark’s coverage.

UPDATE: Google co-founder Larry Page weighs in on the white spaces vote, which Google had promoted.

UPDATE 2: More good analysis from Stacey H over at GigaOM, including details on the Verizon-Alltel merger, which was also approved by the commission.

UPDATE 3: Seems like investors approve, too, as both Sprint and Clearwire stock prices go up.

White Spaces = More Spectrum = Good Idea

August 18, 2008

Google is upping the ante in the ongoing White Spaces issue, announcing today a public advocacy campaign designed to put pressure on the FCC and Washington lawmakers to free up the so-called “white spaces” of wireless spectrum that exists between broadcast TV channels. While the jury is still out on whether this idea can work technically to everyone’s satisfaction, there’s little doubt that finding more spectrum for broadband communications here in the U.S. is a good idea.

While some folks like Om Malik are pointing a cynical eye at Google’s real intentions, I can’t see how opening the debate on this and other matters broadband is anything but good. If we simply listened to incumbent possessors of spectrum on why it’s too risky to try anything new, we might never have had the Wi-Fi revolution happen the way it did. And sure, Google’s Free the Airwaves idea might produce a lot more silly home-cooked video, but if it ultimately opens up another broadband pipe in this country of duopoly providers, it’s worth the effort.

And if you’re a veteran of D.C. telecom lobbying battles, you know that Google’s new group is light-years different from the telecom “front” organizations that hide their real intentions and backers; on the Google public policy blog product manager Minnie Ingersoll is pretty straightforward when it comes to Google’s motivations:

Google has a clear business interest in expanding access to the web. There’s no doubt that if these airwaves are opened up to unlicensed use, more people will be using the Internet. That’s certainly good for Google (not to mention many of our industry peers) but we also think that it’s good for consumers.

Before any of the next-generation ideas in the white spaces can take place, however, the spectrum needs to be freed up. As we noted in our recent QuickCut Report on WiMax Spectrum, there isn’t a lot of spectrum available right now at the 700 MHz frequency, which is where AT&T and Verizon are planning to launch their so-called 4G networks. So why not free up the white spaces, or at least ask more questions why not? Sure it may mean more money for Google, but in these times of pending metered broadband that seems like a weak reason to oppose the idea.