Prepare for open wireless Internet -- the 700 MHz C block has hit its reserve price

On Thursday, the coveted "C block" of the FCC's 700 MHz auction met the reserve price of $4.6 million set by the FCC, which means that the restriction that all licensees must open it up to any devices and any applications will be fully enforced. This is a big victory for those such as Google who have been lobbying for an open wireless Internet platform.

On Thursday, the coveted "C block" of the FCC's 700 MHz auction saw its high bid rise to $4.7 million, passing the reserve price of $4.6 million set by the FCC. This is critical because the FCC has set the restriction on the C block that any licensees must "allow consumers to use the handset of their choice and download and use the applications of their choice in this spectrum block."

However, that stipulation, which Google pressured the FCC to put in place, would only go into effect if the reserve price of the auction was met. Otherwise, the stipulation would be removed -- as current wireless giants in the United States requested -- and then the U.S. carriers would have the opportunity to purchase the C block and turn it into a walled garden.

The C block is the jewel of the 700 MHz auction, because it will offer its winner the opportunity to build a nationwide U.S. network for wireless broadband Internet. That new network, which is being auctioned as a result of U.S. television stations moving off of it and converting to digital signals in February 2009, could serve as a disruptive influence for both the Cable/DSL industry and the future of the cell phone, as I explained in The 700 MHz auction will tip the wireless balance, but in which direction?

Since the $4.6 million barrier has been eclipsed, it is likely that multiple bidders are vying with each other, but we won't know the identity of the winner until the auction closes later in February, and additional bids could still drive the price even higher. The three highest bidders are expected to be Google, Verizon Wireless, and AT&T Wireless, but there are also a handful of other deep-pocketed entities involved in the auction who could be making a run at the C block.

There has been speculation that Google plans to merely make a few token bids to make sure the reserve price is met. Of course, others think Google is ready to become a wireless ISP. We won't know Google's true intentions for several more weeks, but it does appear that Google's dream of an open wireless Internet platform for mobile devices will come true.


Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.


It seems to me that no one really should have the right to control, (other than regulate for protection), own?, or otherwise monopolize any given part of the Universal Spectrum. This makes no sense from a scientific standpoint. This also seems illegal from a constitutional standpoint. But, of course, from a marketing and development standpoint...


Shouldn't these numbers be billions, not millions?


I agree the airwaves belong to all of us. The FCC was created to bring order to airwaves by the Communications Act of 1934. Prior to that, the Department of Commerce had some regulatory authority. The FCC did a great job and some of us old time 2-way radio guys remember the "kilocycle cops" as their field inspectors were called. However, with the explosion of demand for wireless spectrum coupled with the deregulation mantra of the 1980s along with an insatiable need for other sources of revenue, Congress came up with the "brilliant idea" of auctioning off unassigned wireless spectrum to the highest bidder. Voices of reason to the contrary were drowned out by the rustle of cash. Money talks, everything else walks.

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