226 applications were submitted to the FCC to bid for the airwaves that will have been relinquished by the broadcast industry as it migrates completely to digital signals in 2009. As it turns out 170 of these bids were kicked back as incomplete. Apparently most of the bids come from holding companies and regional telecoms, but there were of course a few noteworthy additions. We all expected the telcoms and others entrenched in the mobile category to bid – Verizon, At&T, Qualcomm, and the like. We also assumed that Google was going to make this play, and they are indeed an approved applicant. Microsoft Co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital is in, and some of the broadcast industry bids came from Echo Star and Cox Communications. There were many surprising names on the list as well, including the oil giant Chevron. It’s difficult to imagine the large telcos/wireless companies like Verizon and AT&T being outbid for the largest blocks of the spectrum – they have the most to gain or lose in the deal. But in the evolving wireless ecosystem, who knows. We could use a new major carrier! The US government stands to make up to $10billion in the auction.
What is the 700 Mhz spectrum? A strong analog signal that can go long distances and penetrate walls. Currently used by the broadcast industry, which is mandated to switch to 100% digital signals by 2009, thereby freeing up the 700Mhz spectrum for alternate use. The FCC is managing the auction.
Why is this so interesting? This is the last opportunity for a major player to enter the mobile market. The new media characteristics of openness and connectedness benefits both consumers and marketers. The carriers have been reluctant to give up much of the control they maintain over the pipes, thereby limiting access to consumers. All data communication to mobile subscribers must pass the gatekeepers (read: the carriers), which has been the stifling point of mobile marketing progression in the US to-date. I would say that it’s understandable to maintain control to maximize revenue, but that wall has been crumbling down for some time. More often than not the market will find the next path of least resistance to follow to the holyland of progress and innovation. A more open mobile platform opens a world of possibilities for both consumers and marketers alike. The only ones who have anything to lose are the major carriers. But as they say – the new guard can not assume levels of influence until some of the blood of the old guard is spilled…or something like that.
So as the broadcast industry hands over the 700Mhz spectrum to be used as the next wireless network, the revolution will in fact be televised, only via wireless device.