During the FCC’s recent auctions of the 700MHz wireless spectrum, Google risked owing the government slightly more than $4.6 billion simply to ensure that the open access rules it fought for would be imposed on whoever won. Verizon won, and now it must allow allow any device and any application to run on the future wireless broadband network it will build on top of that spectrum. Or does it?
Google is so worried that Verizon wlll try to find a loophole that it filed a petition with the FCC on Friday asking it to preemptively enforce the rules on Verizon. Excerpt (and full text embedded below):
The Commission’s open access rule is clear that C Block licensees “shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice….” The rule also is explicit that C Block licensees may not “disable features on handsets it provides to customers.” The rule thus plainly proscribes a C Block licensee from selling handsets to customers that hinder a customer’s ability to use applications of their choice, and applies to all customers of a C Block licensee.
Notwithstanding the clarity of the rule, Verizon has taken the public position that it may exclude its handsets from the open access condition. Verizon believes it may force customers who want to access the open platform using a device not purchased from Verizon to go through “Door No. 1,” while allowing customers who obtain their device from Verizon access through “Door No. 2.”
Is Google just paranoid? Not exactly. There is a huge, gaping loophole in the rules. Namely, Verizon can block any device or application it deems to have a negative impact on the performance of its network.
While Verizon hasn’t explicitly said one way or the other how it will abide by the open access rules since winning the auction, it’s actions in the past do not inspire confidence. Before the auction, it tried to sue to stop the rules.
And when it announced that it would “open up” its existing network last fall, what it really meant was that it would create a two-tier system. Verizon phones and apps will continue to get preferential treatment, and everyone else’s will be relegated to a separate part of the network. The justification was—guess what?—to make sure that pesky unapproved apps and devices don’t mess up the network.
It should not surprise anybody if Verizon tries to use the same logic to de-fang the open access rules whenever it decides to build its 700 MHz network. Google can petition all it wants. But it might not do any good.
(Photo by Jurek Durczak).