Open Access Now Guaranteed For Wireless Airwaves

Dennis Faas's picture

It's now guaranteed that a major part of America's wireless airwaves will be accessible to any device or computer program. That could mean more choice for cell phone owners who want to access the Internet on their phones.

The guarantee comes because bidding on the relevant part of the airwaves (the C block of the 700 megahertz spectrum to be precise) has passed the $4.64 billion mark. The government has agreed to proposals, championed by Google, ruling that any bidder paying more than this amount would have to follow open-access rules.

The airwaves are being freed up by television broadcasters who are switching from analog to digital broadcasting. The 700 megahertz frequency is particularly valuable as it can carry signals over long distances and through thick walls.

The frequency will most likely be used to provide cell phone services which, thanks to the strong signals, will be able to include data functions like Internet browsing or television. The open access rule means customers will be able to use any make of phone and any Internet software rather than having to be tied into using a particular system. (Source:

Although the bidding is secret, analysts believe the current leader is either Google itself or Verizon Wireless (a partnership of Verizon and Vodafone). The auction has been going on for a week and will end only when there are no more bids. There have been 17 bids so far, though some believe Google have been attempting to get the price high enough to trigger the open-access requirement and aren't actually trying to win the auction.

There is some concern that the auction scheme might still face problems. So far, nobody has made the minimum $1.3 million bid on the D block, another of the five sections of the frequency being auctioned. That's likely because the winner would have to share access with local fire and police services. If there's no bidder, it's conceivable the entire package of frequencies might have to be re-auctioned. (Source:

The sell-off is good news for the government as it raises a large amount for the public purse (bidding on all five parts of the package already totals $15 billion). Thus, it's reassuring to see that the scheme will now also benefit consumers who will have more choice when they buy Internet-capable phones.

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