Google's Page Talks Wireless Policy
Google's billionaire co-founder, Larry Page, is in Washington this week talking up one of his biggest passions these days: spectrum policy.
Pretty wonky stuff for an Internet search engine that makes its money from online advertising. But the Mountain View company doesn't want to become the next AT&T or Verizon Wireless. It clearly sees its future -- a future where more people will use wireless broadband connections -- tied to how easily information and their maps, e-mail and other applications are accessed through wireless devices.
To that end, the soft-spoken and baby-faced Page met with key lawmakers including House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and policy makers at the Federal Communications Commission to push an idea to use empty television broadcast spectrum, called white spaces, for high-speed wireless connections by anyone, anywhere in the U.S. That spectrum will be freed up with the conversion of analog to digital television in February 2009.
"There's a huge opportunity to make this stuff work," Page said in a discussion this morning hosted by the New American Foundation. Google's CEO Eric Schmidt sits on the policy think tank's board.
Google submitted a plan to the FCC last March that would let wireless Internet devices connect to those airwaves without disrupting other television channels and equipment like wireless microphones, which operated on those frequencies. The proposal has been criticized by the National Association of Broadcasters, which has argued that such use of white spaces will cause interference on their broadcast channels. Page dismissed such criticism as a tactic.
"Part of why I'm here is I don't want people to be misled by people who have interests. I'm really bothered by that," Page said.
He compared the use of such unlicensed spectrum to Wi-Fi connections, which use unlicensed microwaves for short-length high-speed wireless connections at thousands of coffee shops, libraries, bookstores and airports around the country. Page said the use of white spaces spectrum, which can travel longer distances, would be like "Wi-Fi on steroids."
That would be a huge opportunity for Google, which gets back to why the company is even getting involved in telecommunications policy in the first place. The more open high-speed wireless connections are, and not controlled by rules and conditions by carriers such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless, the greater access Google will have to wireless broadband users.
"For us, that translates into more revenues for us. If you have 10 percent more connectivity in the U.S. that's 10 percent more revenue for us and that's a big number. The more available broadband is and the lower the cost, we make more money," Page said.
Page's push on white spaces is the company's latest move to influence telecommunications policy. Last summer, Google helped convince the FCC to auction a large portion of nation-wide spectrum with a condition that the network be open to all devices and software applications. It has also pushed for an open mobile platform called Android to be adopted by device makers and used on all networks. Earlier this month, it agreed to invest in WiMax venture Clearwire, which will be deployed as an open high-speed wireless network.
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