Google, Verizon: Competition Is the Best Regulatory Medicine

Includes: GOOG, VZ
by: BlindReason

Interesting piece on the Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) decision to do a deal with Verizon (NYSE:VZ). Wired Calls Google a "Surrender Monkey" (see below). A few reactions:

I am not sure if every fact in the article is correct but I'll admit a bias that if Verizon is on board, it's probably anti innovation. I am not exactly pro regulation either, however. I believe the absolute best way to solve this problem is to get 2-3 national broadband licenses out on the market ASAP, using a combination of regulation and legislation. A lot of spectrum is sitting there warehoused, just waiting to start a business (a lot held by Verizon). Even when the FCC will try to force large incumbents to compete fairly, they will figure out ways around it.
I do agree with the article's general gist that Google fought extremely hard in the UHF band for open handset and pro innovation rules. Google put its money where its mouth was without actually paying out cash in the end. In short, Google was brilliant. I am also long Verizon. Many of the Google folks involved in those decisions are gone doing other things now (Chris Sacca for example).
As for Google's motivation now, however, I think the fact that a large amount of Android share is at Verizon right now might inform the company's views on this topic. No question the companies are talking a lot more than they used to and Verizon is fairly important to Google, particularly as exclusivity with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)/ AT&T (NYSE:T) lapses in the next 18 months. It's a very strange and somewhat of an "evil" move (a reference to the 'do not do evil' policy at Google).
The other thing this definitely does is it undermines the FCC chairman's effort to promote an unfettered mobile internet policy. It's a bit of an unusual move and will make an already tenuous policy move by the FCC a lot more difficult to gain traction. The right move for Google's policy folks is to promote new licenses and new entrants and help the FCC achieve that goal as quickly as possible. The truth is, the FCC probably wasn't going to get its way anyway but this move might end up backfiring for Google's policy folks, as well as for internet startups in general, who need wireless to be unrestricted. It's a really odd, perplexing policy move and bad for innovation.

Competition is always a much better solution to regulation which the carriers will figure out how to avoid anyway. New entrants (wireless carrier startups like Clearwire (CLWR)), are agile but are not as good as Verizon and AT&T at getting past FCC regulations. In short, regulations often designed to protect startups just end up making it harder for them.

Just for the record I am long Google, but mostly because I believe advertising numbers in the next few quarters are going to surprise people and Google is going to benefit directly because of that. However, longer term concerns around Google's management, its ability to grow and its China policy are significant.
Speaking of "not doing evil", now that Google has pretty much admitted it does do evil, sometimes, just a little, can we go back to China please? Google in China with full access is far better for getting information to Chinese citizens than a gateway from Hong Kong. Not only did civil rights lose, Google lost its business to Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU). Founders should be accountable just like any executive for any business decision. At Google, they don't seem to be.
Via Wired:

Why Google Became A Carrier-Humping, Net Neutrality Surrender Monkey

In 2007, when the Android OS was still vaporware, Google made a gutsy $4.6 billion bet on mobile net neutrality. While they never had to pay out the money, that all-in move forced the FCC to license wireless spectrum with binding rules that finally force the wireless carrier that wins a spectrum auction to let Americans use whatever handsets, services and apps they wanted to connect to it.

Verizon, which eventually outbid Google, howled with outrage and filed a lawsuit against those rules, which Google rightly derided as an “attempt to prevent consumers from having any choice of innovative services.”

Fast-forward to 2010.

Google and Verizon announced Monday, as part of their bilateral net neutrality trade agreement they want Congress to ratify, that open wireless rules were unneccessary.

“We both recognize that wireless broadband is different from the traditional wire-line world, in part because the mobile marketplace is more competitive and changing rapidly,” the joint statement said. “In recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless-broadband marketplace, under this proposal we would not now apply most of the [Net Neutrality] wire-line principles to wireless, except for the transparency requirement.”

That’s fancy language for: Verizon and the nation’s telecoms have yet again won, Google officially became a net neutrality surrender monkey, and you — as an American — have lost.

Disclosure: Long GOOG, VZ