FCC Gives Google Half a Win

Updated.Looks like the vote on the 700 MHz auction rulemaking is finally in, and as expected the commission adopted some of the open-networking proposals championed by Google, but not all. While Google carefully lauds the FCC for its action in a post on the company’s public policy blog, both Google and other observers (like the analysts at Stifel, Nicolaus) are guessing that the fine print in the rules (they will likely be published in a couple weeks) will make it extremely hard for any new national provider to surface.

Official releases now are on the No info yet on the FCC site; the rules passed on a 4-1 vote, with commissioner Robert McDowell, the new friend of the incumbent telcos, as the only commish against Martin’s plan. UPDATES, after the jump.

“The FCC took real but incomplete progress this afternoon,” said Rick Whitt, Google’s lead policy exec, in a conference call Tuesday afternoon, lauding the openness conditions but lamenting the omission of rules enforcing wholesale access to the spectrum. When asked if Google would still bid on the spectrum, Whitt said Google “didn’t say it wouldn’t,” meaning that Google will make that decision at a later date.

Hundt: Frontline Down, Not Out — A quick call with Frontline Wireless co-founder Reed Hundt following the FCC vote found the former FCC chairman discouraged but not defeated. “The FCC [vote] did not make it impossible for us, but they did make it clear that they weren’t going to use [the auction rules] to alter the importance of Verizon and AT&T,” Hundt said. Hundt’s take is that since the rules do allow for a bidder to construct a private-public partnership for public-safety buildout, there is still a chance for ideas like Frontline’s to succeed, but only if tech companies who agree with its goals stop “acting like warring Scottish clans” and instead band together more closely in their efforts.

Markey Hails Decision — Massachussets Rep. Ed Markey, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, sent an email message praising the rulemaking decision, calling it an “innovation-fostering decision.” Markey’s office said the rules will allow a bidder to assemble enough spectrum to become a national player, and said that getting the open conditions attached to the rulemaking (but not wholesale conditions) was still a win for consumers.

AT&T Happy that Google Didn’t Win — An email statement “attributed to Jim Cicconi, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President, External and Legislative Affairs” said:

Though we have not yet seen the details of today’s decision on the 700 MHz spectrum auction, the FCC appears to have struck a reasonable balance between the competing interests debating the Google Plan. As we’ve previously noted, if Google is serious about introducing a competing business model into the wireless industry, Chairman Martin’s compromise plan allows them to bid in the auction, win the spectrum, and then implement every one of the conditions they seek. We commend the FCC for adopting this approach rather than stacking the deck in Google’s favor.

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