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Google will chase chunk of US spectrum

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Google has confirmed it's going to bid for a chunk of the US radio spectrum when the auction starts in January, making the announcement slightly ahead of Monday's deadline for all bidders to register their interest with the FCC (Federal Communication Commission).

The chunk concerned is part of the 700Mhz due to be released by the switch-off of analogue TV. Quite what they'll use it for if they win won't be clear until next year, but part of the licence mandates allowing users to connect third-party devices, and run third-party applications, over it: a clause that Google lobbied for.

The frequencies won't be available until 2009, when the USA starts turning off parts of its analogue broadcast network, so Google has some time to consider how it might best use the block.

It also seems likely they'll face competition from incumbent network operators such Verizon and AT&T, who are likely to file an interest with the FCC on Monday. Verizon's recent decision to open their existing network to third-parties demonstrates they have no problem with that restriction, so their decision will be based on if they think owning part of 700MHz will get them more customers, and how much they're prepared to spend getting those customers.

The block Google is bidding for, known as "C Block", has a reserve of $4.6bn, so there'll need to be some serious return on investment for it to be worth buying. But the frequency has very good range and excellent building penetration - which is why it was selected for analogue TV in less-congested times.

Google's interest comes as no surprise - it was their lobbying which put the open requirement on the C Block, and as Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, put it: "It's important to put our money where our principles are." But if Google wins then the expectation will be high, users will want to see ubiquitous data access at very low cost, something even Google might struggle to provide. ®

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