Google President Calls for Access Beyond the Wire

Regulatory and political policies, and not technological barriers, are inhibiting the spread of wireless broadband, said Google co-founder Larry Page.

WASHINGTON, May 22 – Regulatory and political policies, and not technological barriers, are inhibiting the spread of wireless broadband Internet, Google co-founder Larry Page said Thursday.

Page said that vast swaths of the broadcast television band lie fallow because of the vacant channels wedged between the station frequencies that are used. These so-called “white spaces” could be redeployed by using them for broadband, or high-speed Internet transmissions, Page said.

Page spoke at an event, “Google Unwired,” hosted by the non-profit New America Foundation. Page, who co-founded Google with Sergey Brin, is president of products. Company CEO Eric Schmidt is the incoming chairman of New America’s board.

Page called it a “totally simple brain-dead thing” to use spectrum-sensing technologies that would “know” their geographic location and connect to the Internet only when such transmissions would not interfere with television broadcasts.

Doing this “makes a lot of sense,” and would put the nation on “a path where we are using 99 percent of our spectrum, rather than 3 percent,” Page said at the event, which was titled “Google Unwired.”

Page decried the opposition of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), whose members currently control the television spectrum.  The National Cable Television Association (NCTA) has also opposed the move to redeploy channels toward broadband because of concern of interference with cable television reception.

But a group of technology giants, including Dell, Intel, Microsoft, Phillips and Google, maintain that wireless broadband technologies do not interfere with television reception. Page said that prototypes developed by Phillips and other companies have successfully avoided interference with licensed channels.

Refusing to allow vacant channels to be used for broadband could lead America to fall further behind in international broadband rankings, Page said.

In addition to the opposition from the NAB, the makers of wireless microphones, as well as the sports leagues that use wireless transmission during live events, oppose the tech companies’ push into white spaces. Page said he is “totally convinced” that the fears of the NAB are unfounded. The FCC has a “great record” of assuring that no harmful interferences take place, he said.

Public safety officials can also benefit from wireless communications over the vacant channels, said Page. Wireless broadband is more resilient and offers superior services in times of distress than the alternative wired network that is centralized in one location. Corpus Christi, Texas, is one such city, said Page.

Although the United States ranked among the top three or four countries in broadband penetration as recently as 2001, the United States has since fallen to 16th because of what Page characterized as its reluctance to trailblaze. Many countries might follow America’s lead if the United States were to standardize wireless broadband access over the vacant channels.

Page also noted that advancements in technology drive down costs over time. These lower prices, together with other steps to improve connectivity, could enhance economic growth.

Speaking about Google’s other ventures into wireless spectrum, including bidding on other frequencies made available by the transition to digital television and offering broadband access in Mountain View, Page said: “Organizing the world’s information is a pretty big task.” While the company would prefer to avoid providing connectivity, “if we are forced to do access, we will do it.”

While Google is one of the leading champions for the change from broadcast to broadband, Page said his company does not have a direct self-interest in the switch from broadcast to broadband. However, since an increase in broadband availability “translates into more revenue” for Google, Page also said that his company would benefit from increasing the ability of American residents to have access to wireless Internet.

Also addressing concerns about Google’s attempt to structure a joint venture with Yahoo, and to forstall Microsoft’s efforts to acquire Yahoo, Page said: “When you have 90 percent of communications in one company, that is a pretty big risk, especially one with a  history of doing bad stuff.”

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