Google versus Verizon, Round 2


Google versus Verizon, Round 2

In a move seemingly inspired by those 'True Love Waits' abstinence pledges, Google is petitioning the FCC to obtain a guarantee from Verizon Wireless promising the operator will honor its commitment to open access. A Google filing Friday raises concerns that Verizon isn't fully dedicated to the open-access restrictions instituted by the FCC over the nationwide C block of 700 MHz spectrum the federal agency auctioned in March--the provisions mandate the C block winner (i.e., Verizon Wireless) allow consumers carte blanche authority over the devices and applications that run on the spectrum, and it seems Google fears Verizon won't uphold its end of the bargain, in effect blocking handsets and apps based on the web services giant's nascent Android mobile OS from its network. "Action now is especially necessary given the long lead time typically required for software applications developers and device manufacturers to design, develop, and deploy their products to the public, as well as the uncertainty Verizon has introduced publicly regarding its compliance with the open access obligations," Google's lawyers wrote.

The "uncertainty" Google alludes to dates back to last Autumn, when Verizon filed a lawsuit to force the FCC to abandon the open-access rules--the operator also proposed a two-tiered approach to the C block allowing sales of both locked and unlocked devices. But that was then and this is now: In December, Verizon changed course and announced "Any Apps, Any Device," an initiative promising to introduce open access nationwide by the end of 2008. And while Verizon's first Open Development Initiative conference in March raised as many questions as it answered, there is little or no evidence to suggest the carrier plans to renege on its open-access promises. Even as recently as last month, when Google finally admitted its sole rationale for entering the 700 MHz auction was to drive up bidding and guarantee the open access conditions were met, the company never expressed concern its strategy could backfire.

So why now? Google isn't publicly commenting on the FCC filing, so the legalese must speak for itself. "Verizon has taken the public position that it may exclude its handsets from the open access condition," the filing states. "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.' …[T]he open access condition would apply to none of Verizon's customers, and thereby render the condition a nullity. Because this 'two-door' position espoused by Verizon is contrary to the plain meaning of the rule, as well as the Commission's public interest findings and policy objectives set forth in the 700 MHz Second R&O, it must be rejected." In other words, Google argues Verizon has no intention of adhering to any rules but its own, despite the operator's public assurances to the contrary--an extraordinary claim for one firm to make against another, especially given the stakes involved. The auction may be over, but it looks like the pissing match is just beginning. -Jason

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