Google Denies Interest in U.K. Spectrum

Google claims it never intended to bid on the UK's 3G spectrum.

Google emphatically denied on Sept. 20 that it is interested in bidding on 3G spectrum that the U.K. may put up for sale. Ofcom, the British telecom regulator, announced on Sept.19 it was considering a spectrum auction as early next year and press reports immediately circulated citing Googles interest.

"I can tell you definitively its something were not currently looking at," Adam Kovacevich, Googles Washington-based manager of Global Communications and Public Affairs, told eWeek. "We dont know where those stories started."

The Ofcom proposal would take 2G spectrum currently used by Vodafone and O2, the wireless carrier that has won a deal to sell iPhones in Europe, and auction the airwaves for advanced wireless services. The slower 2G standards support only voice calls, text messaging and low-speed Internet services.

The announcement sparked a news story in the Guardian, a British newspaper, which reported, "Google is considering a move into the UK wireless market. Acquiring a slice of the airwaves in Britain would allow the Californian search engine to launch its own fully fledged mobile phone service or push for the sort of open standards-based wireless broadband network it is proposing in the U.S."


To read more about Verizon Wireless challenge to the spectrum auction rules, click here.

From there, the story took on a life of its own. Googles Kovacevich said, "Its just not true."

Google is already at the center of speculation in the U.S. that its plans to make a bid for spectrum that the Federal Communications Commission plans to auction in January. Rumors also continue to swirl that Google is developing a mobile phone.

The search and advertising giant is a late, but successful, entrant into the race for the FCC spectrum. The airwaves up for sale are from the spectrum that broadcasters will vacate as part of the digital television transition. The spectrum is considered ideal for wireless broadband since it can travel great distances and penetrate walls.

For months, it was assumed in Washington the spectrum, which could fetch as much as $15 billion at auction, would fall to the highest bidder among incumbent wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon.

But Google lobbied the FCC to put restrictions on the sale, including requiring the winning bidder to make the spectrum open to all legal devices and software. Google also sought to have the winning bidder make spectrum available on a wholesale basis. Google said if the FCC met the conditions, it was willing to pledge a minimum bid of $4.6 billion for the spectrum.

Incumbent wireless carriers currently restrict the types of devices and software that can run on their networks.

The FCC decided in its initial rules for the auction to go with Googles "open access" suggestions but decided against the wholesale requirements. Google has not officially said it would participate in the auction.

Verizon Wireless, the nations second largest carrier, went to court on Sept. 10 to overturn the auction restrictions, calling the rules, in a filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, "arbitrary, capricious and…contrary to law. Verizon Wireless respectfully requests that this court hold unlawful, vacate and set aside the [auction rules] and provide such additional relief as may be appropriate."

In a post by Chris Sacca, Googles Head of Special Initiatives, Google promptly responded to Verizons legal maneuver.

"The nations spectrum airwaves are not the birthright of any one company," Sacca wrote. "Its regrettable that Verizon has decided to use the court system to try to prevent consumers from having any choice of innovative services. Once again, it is American consumers who lose from these tactics."


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