The auctions for the largest chunk of wireless spectrum to become available in several years have not even started yet and Google (GOOG) is already starting the bidding at $4.6 billion. That commitment, though, is only good if the FCC agrees to play by all of Google's rules: open apps, open devices, open services, and open networks.
What is really going on here is that the FCC is still determining what the rules of the auction are going to be, and Google is trying to influence that process. In the opposite corner are the big telcos like Verizon and AT&T who are deploying their substantial lobbying muscle to make sure the auction rules go their way.
Google is serious about the wireless Web, to the tune of at least $4.6 billion, and it wants to make sure it does not get locked out of it. As Vanu CEO Vanu Bose put it to me in a recent conversation:
There are two aspects to openness: unblocked and unlocked. Unlocked means you can buy any phone and connect it to any network. But unblocked is open unfettered access to content, not a walled garden. The FCC should mandate that you cannot block access to Google. Where it really hurts is applications.
What Google is trying to do is to impose Net neutrality on the wireless world. Agrees Bose:
That is exactly what it is. This is wireless Net neutrality.
But we know who is winning the Net neutrality wars (the telcos). So why should wireless be any different? But Google is at least willing to put its money where it's mouth is in this case. (It also knows how auctions work better than most companies, so that $4.6 billion could just be an opening bid that it is calculating will be trumped by someone else—and thus it will never actually have to pay it out or build out a wireless network.