Two years ago, Google partnered with Earthlink to offer a plan for San Francisco
to provide free wireless access without dipping into the municipal budget. The City bit and today, San Franciscan's are still waiting for their wifi. Rumor has it that the deal has been killed by Earthlink, but according to a recent Guardian article
Google's interest in wireless internet is still very much alive.
As part of the Coalition for 4G that also includes Intel, Skype and Yahoo, Google has successfully lobbied the FCC to change the way a portion of the airwaves are sold. According to the Guardian:
Google pledged to spend at least $4.6bn (?2.3bn) in the auction if its demands were met by the FCC. In a letter to the chairman of the FCC, Google's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, said: "In short, when Americans can use the software and handsets of their choice, over open and competitive networks, they win." The US mobile phone companies are angry that Google is using its cash resources to lever open the wireless market, unsure exactly what the company intends to do. There has already been speculation about Google developing its own mobile phone - codenamed the Gphone. Buying wireless spectrum, however, is not believed to be connected with this development. Instead Google wants to make it easier for US fixed-line internet users to get online when out and about. Higher internet usage, of course, would generate more traffic for the world's largest search engine and consequently higher revenues.
While I'm definitely opposed to the phone companies controlling all the frequencies being auctioned off, I'm unsure what to conclude about Google's intent. It is somewhat reassuring that a number of companies have come together to form a coalition devoted to "open access," but how open that access will be is unclear. Further, the Google deal in San Francisco has illuminated various privacy and other issues. Well, that, and the fact that our wireless internet may never materialize and it seems possible the same may be true with Google's acquisition of the radio spectrum.
Only time will tell, but at least someone is mounting a challenge to the phone companies juggernaut force and that alone deserves to be recognized and respected.