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Google to Verizon: Don't shirk open access responsibilities

Google files a petition with the FCC asking the agency to force Verizon Wireless to promise it will follow open access rules for the licenses it won in 700MHz spectrum auction.

Google wants reassurance from Verizon Wireless that it will comply with open access rules that were part of the Federal Communications Commission's recent 700MHz auction.

Verizon Wireless was the winning bidder in the auction of an important sliver of spectrum licenses in the 700 MHz spectrum auction, which raised a record $19.6 billion for the U.S. Treasury. As part of the rules of the auction, the winner of the C-Block licenses is required to allow any device to connect to the network and is also required to allow any application to be downloaded on devices that use the network.

Verizon, which plans to use the new spectrum to build its 4G wireless broadband network, initially opposed the open access rules. And once the rules were adopted, it filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to find those conditions unlawful. It eventually withdrew its appeal after that court denied Verizon's request for an expedited review.

Google filed a petition with the FCC on Friday asking the agency to make sure that Verizon really plans to adhere to these rules before the FCC officially grants the company the licenses in the C-Block of the 700MHz auction.

"We want Verizon to acknowledge their responsibility to comply with the C-Block license conditions," said Richard Whitt, the Washington telecom and media counsel for Google who signed the petition. "In other words, we want them to live up to their side of the bargain. And we want their interpretation and implementation of the rule to be consistent with the spirit and intent in which the FCC adopted those rules."

Google, which also bid on the spectrum during the auction, was one of the main proponents of the open access rules and helped effectively lobby the FCC to include the rules as part of the auction.

Now that the auction is over, Google claims that it wants to make sure that Verizon will really comply with the rules so that software developers can begin working on new innovative applications. It wants Verizon to state publicly that it plans to adhere to all aspects of the open access rules, including a provision the company opposed in written and oral arguments to the FCC as well as in court papers filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals. Specifically, Google wants Verizon to say that it will allow any application to be downloaded on any device using the C-Block network.

Google contends that Verizon has argued previously that the rule should apply only to devices that consumers bring to the network and should not include devices that Verizon sells to its customers.

This reasoning appears to be similar to how Verizon has set up its Open Device Initiative, a program announced in November that will expedite the certification process for device makers to get new devices on Verizon's network. This program is separate from the 700MHz rules, but it could provide some insight into how the company interprets open access.

Whitt said that what Verizon is doing with the Open Device Initiative is commendable. He applauds the company's efforts to embrace openness as a business model, but he said that it's too early to tell if the initiative will live up to the rules that the FCC has mandated for C Block licenses in the 700MHz spectrum auction.

Verizon has not specifically said since the auction that it won't live up to its obligations under the rules of the auction. Whitt said that Google doesn't necessarily mistrust Verizon, but he said that the company is taking Ronald Reagan's advice to "trust but verify" that Verizon will do what's expected.

"We're not trying to delay the process," he said. "And we aren't trying to block Verizon from getting those licenses. What it comes down to is we want to make sure that Verizon Wireless acknowledges and accepts the conditions put on these licenses by the majority of the FCC."

According to FCC procedure, Verizon has an opportunity to file its reply to Google's petition within the next two weeks. A spokesman for the company said it would be doing that, but he didn't seemed alarmed by Google's petition.

"What a surprise," he said in an e-mail. "Google submits yet another regulatory filing to the Federal Communications Commission. Google's filing has no legal standing."

If Verizon responds to the petition and reiterates its position or decides not to address the issues, it will be up to the FCC to decide what it will do next. It is within the FCC's right to deny Verizon access to the licenses, Whitt said. But considering what is at stake, it's likely that won't happen. I'll be following this drama as it unfolds to see how Verizon responds.