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Google, telcos in wireless agreement shock

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Somehow, Google and the wireless telcos have found something they can agree on.

With a blog post earlier this week, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel lent the company's support to the Radio Spectrum Inventory Act, which would force government regulators to ask themselves how the nation's wireless spectrum is actually being used.

"Radio spectrum is a natural resource, something that here in the U.S. is owned by all of us as American citizens," Richard Whitt wrote. "But which entities are operating in our nation's public airwaves, and where? Are these resources actually being used efficiently and effectively, or is a sizable portion of useful spectrum simply lying fallow?"

Introduced last month by Senators John Kerry and Olympia Snowe, the Act would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to take a full inventory of the US spectrum between the 300MHz and 3.5GHz bands. And yes, it's also backed by the entrenched wireless telcos.

"We know that additional spectrum will be needed for commercial providers to meet consumers’ increasing appetite for mobile broadband services, and the Kerry-Snowe bill is a good first step toward identifying where that spectrum will come from," was the word from Steve Largent, head of CTIA, the wireless association backed by the likes of Verzion and AT&T. "Given the long lead time that is often involved between identifying spectrum for commercial use and moving it to market, this is a very timely proposal."

The proposal calls on the FCC and the NTIA to collect data on all spectrum licensees or government users between 300MHz and 3.5GHz, tally the amount and type of equipment deployed in each band, and build maps showing signal coverage and strength. With this data in hand, regulators could then determine how the nation's airwaves can best accommodate America's expanding appetite for wireless data.

And that's something Google and telcos are unlikely to agree on. In announcing the bill, John Kerry highlighted last January's 700MHz auction and last summer's opening of the TV white spaces as prime examples of how spectrum policy can spark innovation. But both were met by epic protests from the mega-telcos.

The 700MHz spectrum carried an open-access requirement and the white spaces were offered up to world+dog as unlicensed spectrum. The telcos would prefer that the entire US spectrum be put up for auction without open restrictions, so they can license the lot and do whatever they want with it. With his blog post, Google's Richard Whitt made sure he took his usual swipe at this lingering attitude.

"Often lost in the debate over how best to put our spectrum to use is the fact that these airwaves belong to the American public, not to any corporation or other entity," he said. "But without a clear idea exactly whether and how these airwaves are being used, it is difficult to have an informed conversation about the best way to allocate and use spectrum efficiently for the needs of the American people."

So, Google and the telcos agree. But not for long. ®

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