Crack Google?

robberbarons.jpg Cringely gets anxious over Google’s floor bid for 700Mhz. After pointing out that Verizon and AT&T coming around to Kevin Martin’s leaked counterproposal of watered down “open access” rules, he says:
Look who Google is up against — all the largest Internet service providers in the U.S. Google will not win this even if they win the auction, because the telcos and cable companies are far more skilled and cunning when it comes to lobbying and controlling politicians than Google can ever hope to be. The telcos have spent more than a century at this game and Google hasn’t even been in it for a decade. And Google’s pockets are no deeper than those of the other potential bidders.

Is Google on Crack?: Eric Schmidt bets the ranch on wireless spectrum, Robert X. Cringely, Pulpit, 27 July 2007

Cringely is missing the point about who Google is up against. These outfits have not been the largest ISPs for more than a century. They’ve been telephone companies for more than a century. And being around for a long time isn’t necessarily a sure win. Look at the Vatican; it’s been around for two thousand years, and it’s managed to lose most of its traditional heartland of Europe. Sure, Google is fragile, in some senses even more fragile than Microsoft, as Cringely points out. But even Microsoft is losing market share from IE to an open source browser, Firefox. Google, as a proponent of open source that actually understands it, has a fair chance here. The incumbent duopoly telcos aren’t really in the Internet business; Google is.

Maybe Cringely’s right that Google alone couldn’t win the auction. But Google and Sprint possibly could. Sure, Sprint is a phone company, too. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to side with the rest if it scents profit. Maybe with a little help from Apple.

Let’s hope that’s what Google is really up to, rather than expecting to get Martin to change the rules and then wait for AT&T to deliver another striped bass.

I also don’t think Cringely is taking into account the stakes here.

You ever notice how the real Cringely only appears on PBS? We’re not hearing even this level of analysis from the larger media, which is mostly owned by only five companies, some of the same companies that are busily gaming the postal service and any other communications medium they can get their hands on.

If we want to stop the Internet Robber Barons from taking over the last bastion of free speech, if we want the Internet preserved and extended as a market of reasoned discourse, somebody has to step up and get moving on it.

Waiting until the next election to get the political commissars out of office isn’t enough. By then this 700Mhz auction will be a done deal, much harder to undo than other done deals such as postal service rates. There’s a lot of public good the aparatchiks can sell off to the robber barons in the more than a year they’ve got left in office. And if Congress falls for the telco and cableco line of no need for net neutrality, or, worse, if politicians or the people wimp out like Cringely is recommending and don’t fight and don’t win, Google will lose anyway. The duopoly will gradually change the Internet into Minitel.

You do remember Minitel, don’t you? That was the France Telecom owned volume-charged national computer network that held France a decade behind in adopting the Internet. Think what we’ll have when the telcos and cablecos get their volume-charging gold-content priority schemes implemented so they can properly monetize the Internet. We’ll get TV451, with content just as good[sic] as TV, policed by the duopoly. I’m sure there will be some little place for Google in there; a place determined by the duopoly. Meanwhile, France and Russia and China and India will move ahead into the future we could have had.

Google has put its money where its mouth is. The proponents of net neutrality outnumber those opposed, in dollars as well. More of them should do the same.