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Secret bidding for US airwaves tops $3.3bn

Will it be Google? Or Verizon?

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Yes, the 700-MHz auction has finally arrived. But we're still waiting for the big money bets.

On Thursday, the US Federal Communications Commission took the first bids for the much ballyhooed 700-MHZ "C Block," a particularly juicy nationwide slice of the US airwaves, and four business days later, as the auction reaches its twelfth round, the bidding has topped $3.3bn.

Of course, things won't get interesting until we hit $4.6bn.

After heavy lobbying from the likes of Google, FCC has attached an "open access" requirement to the C Block, which will (supposedly) force the winning bidder to allow access from any device and any application - internet-style. But if the $4.6bn "reserve price" isn't met, the commission reserves the right to re-auction the block without the open access requirement.

At one point, Google said it was prepared to lay down the full $4.6bn, but this was a shameless attempt to bribe the FCC into attaching additional requirements to the C Block, and the FCC did not comply. Chances are, Google is still willing to go this high, but you have to wonder how far it will go beyond $4.6bn.

Sadly, the bidding process is closed to the public, so we don't know who's bidding what. But you can be sure that the auction will eventually come to down to Google versus Verizon.

In September, Verizon threw a US appeals court at the FCC in an attempt to get the open access removed. But when its toss went wide of the mark, the company decided that what it really wanted to do was tell the world that it loved open access. According to a late November annoucement, it will open up its wireless network to "any app, any device" by the end of this year. But we question how open it will really be.

So we're rooting for the lesser of two evils. We're rooting for Google. ®

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