Games Google Plays: The Psychology of the Spectrum Auction

by on April 18, 2008 · 7 comments

I can’t let the week end without calling attention to  a Bloomberg article on Republican outrage over the FCC’s cession to Google’s petition for “gaming” the spectrum rules.

At Tuesday’s House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, Molly Peterson reports that:

Rep. John Shimkus (IL) asked whether Google had “duped” the FCC by bidding primarily to trigger the open-access rules. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said the agency wasn’t duped, adding that the rules weren’t designed to prevent any company from bidding. “My goal was to make sure that whoever won the C-block had an open platform,'” Martin, a Republican, told the House telecommunications subcommittee.

The 463 blog smartly caught the irony of a company playing the game too successfully:

The only right thing for Google to do is to begin to shut down it’s overly effective Washington operation. They are clearly operating on a level that is unfair to all those telecom giant DC neophytes.

But here’s the real takeaway. Google’s public policy pitch was a crafty and bold maneuver. By asserting public interests, Google convinced the FCC to skew the spectrum rules to favor Google’s ad-based business model over competitive models that receive revenue from monthly subscriptions or operating networks.

Although lobbying for open access makes sense for Google, it had other options besides lobbying the FCC. It could have bid for the auction without FCC strings attached, just as other carriers have bid at prior spectrum auctions. It also could have negotiated partnerships with winning licensees after the auction. Instead, Google took the political route, and government regulation now forecloses some of the ways that a wireless operator can run its business.

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