11:47 AM

Verizon Supports Some 'Open' Measures Of 700-MHz Auction

The company shifts its views as FCC commissioners prepare for a vote next week to set ground rules for the auction.

In an 11th hour shift, Verizon Wireless this week said it will back a measure that would earmark a portion of the 700-MHz spectrum for use by any carrier's wireless device.

The company, however, continues to oppose some suggestions for the auction put forth by FCC chairman Kevin Martin.

The change in policy, reported Wednesday, follows a similar policy change announced last week on the spectrum auction by AT&T, the other major U.S. cell phone provider.

FCC commissioners are preparing for a vote next week to set ground rules for the auction, which will be held later this year.

While a group of consumer organizations and Internet companies, including eBay's Skype unit, Yahoo, and Amazon, are supporting efforts to open the spectrum to more competition, Google remains on the sidelines of the auction issue.

Last week, Verizon Wireless complained that Google wanted to "rig" the auction. "Corporate welfare for Google is bad public policy," Verizon Wireless said then. A few days before that, AT&T had challenged Google to "put up or shut up."

As it turned out, Google did put up, as its chairman Eric Schmidt listed four "open" proposals that if properly addressed would entice it to set aside $4.6 billion to bid in the auction.

In a blog on the Google site, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel Richard Witt said: "For the upcoming 700-MHz auction in particular, the issue boils down to the different incentives at work between the existing national wireless carriers -- the incumbents -- and those companies seeking to enter the market for the first time -- potential new entrants." Witt said the incumbents have an advantage in the auction, and Google seeks to level the playing field for new entrants into wireless communications.

The existing mobile phone providers, also including companies such as T-Mobile, Sprint, and Alltel, have argued that the existing wireless infrastructures have delivered innovative features and lower prices to consumers.

In a recent statement, Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive VP for external and legislative affairs, said: "If our understandings are accurate, we believe chairman Martin has struck an interesting and creative balance between the competing interests debating the Google plan. The plan would enable the introduction of an alternative wireless business model without requiring changes in the business models of AT&T and others in what is a highly competitive wireless industry."

While Verizon Wireless said it would support some of the so-called open features of the auction, it indicated it couldn't guarantee the reliability of wireless services not provided by Verizon Wireless itself. Verizon Wireless is owned by majority owner Verizon Communications and also the Vodafone Group.

Google could be holding an ace up its sleeve in the auction. The firm has a massive infrastructure of dark fiber surrounding its worldwide network of data centers that could be used to deliver wireless services to consumers. Steve Arnold, a Google expert who has written a book based on Google's patents, said Google could deliver "open" wireless services to consumers, if it doesn't get what it wants in the 700-MHz auction.

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