Peace hath her victories
No less renown'd than war.
-- From John Milton, "To the Lord General Cromwell"
Now that the much-ballyhooed FCC auction on former broadcast TV airwaves is over, it's time to take a step back and see who won. To nobody's surprise, the biggest potential winner spent the least time on the battlefield: Google
But Google didn't win anything!
The online giant bowed out of the proceedings after ensuring that the $4.6 billion reserve price would be met on a highly coveted 22 MHz block of radio-spectrum slices. Verizon Wireless, the Verizon
Google had been lobbying to decorate Verizon's 22-MHz slice with some restrictions on how the property could be used. With the minimum price met, Verizon is now bound to a modicum of open access rules, so that any mobile device will be allowed to connect to the network, with any software the user wants. It's a big change from today's wireless networks, where the service provider locks its network down to specific phone models and won't allow third-party applications to talk to the network.
Turning a new leaf
The new Verizon network will look a bit more like the Internet we've come to know and love, thanks to its lack of such arbitrary restrictions. You still won't necessarily be able to connect an AT&T Wireless phone to the Verizon airspace, but moving an Apple
More to the point, you won't need to wait for Verizon to start selling its own phones for C-block access. Theoretically, it should be as simple as walking up to a random street vendor, buying a generic Google Android phone, and then signing up for a Verizon plan.
Think of how you're free to hook a Sony
And the real winner is ... you!
The more our mobile gadgets behave like the Internet, the happier Google is. The Android platform may feel far away today, but I think we'll be overrun with the things next year. Then we'll get similarly application-agnostic versions of the Nokia
For the telecoms, this is a call to action and innovation. When consumers have a choice of services, they'll go to the best provider, or maybe to the one with the biggest marketing budget. We'll see who chooses the brand-building path, and who goes with technical excellence instead. I think the latter road leads to the greater rewards.
It's a beautiful thing for consumers, and it's great for an entity like Google that wants to hawk its online properties to the widest audience possible. Android isn't even the point -- open access is.
By bidding just enough to force a massive sea change, and then not actually buying anything, Google got exactly what it wanted, at almost no cost. I wouldn't be surprised if that was the plan all along.
Peace hath her victories, indeed.
Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund is a Google shareholder, but he holds no other position in any companies discussed. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure wants a spiffy new phone with VoIP software.