The Best Things in Life Are Free (Even When You’re Worth More Than Half a Trillion Dollars)

“I don’t care how much money you have, free stuff is always a good thing.”
– Queen Latifah

While I don’t believe that Queen Latifah had Google in mind when she uttered this well-known line, she might as well have.

Google has a lot of money. Not just a lot of money, but A LOT of money. Sporting a market capitalization of $548 billion, Google has passed Apple as the most valuable company on the planet.

Thus, it’s safe to assume that, if Google wanted or needed something, it could afford to buy it. For example, Google has expressed an interest in “low band” spectrum. Given its interest in spectrum, one would assume that Google would be a major player heading into the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) upcoming broadcast spectrum incentive auction. This auction will feature as much as 100 megahertz of prime low band spectrum. It would be a perfect opportunity for Google to acquire spectrum usage rights, and Google’s participation would have the added benefits of raising billions in auction revenues for the government and helping to ensure the auction’s success.

However, despite its interest in using spectrum, Google isn’t going to play in the auction. Sorry, Congress. Sorry, FCC. No dice.

Why did Google decide to sit out yet another spectrum auction? The smart money is on Google recognizing Queen Latifah was really on to something. Even if you’re worth well more than half a trillion dollars, free stuff is still a good thing.

Rather than bid in the auction, Google believes it has found access to free spectrum it can monetize. For the past year, Google has helped lead the charge behind the scenes to push the FCC to simply reallocate spectrum during the auction process for Googley purposes. Reallocation has no price tag. It’s just a gift. In this instance, Google has managed to convince the FCC to consider taking even more channels away from free, over-the-air television after the auction, and designating them for companies like Google. Never mind that this would kill off more free, diverse and rural television service across the country. Never mind that it will hamper innovation by companies not named Google. And never mind that it will crush any hopes of new and diverse entrants into the broadcast industry. If Google sees an opportunity to throw its $548 billion weight around and wind up with some spectrum schwag, why not do it?

It’s also not for Google to care whether or not this is the right outcome for the country. Let’s face it, Google and its interest-group contractors can’t articulate any tangible benefits for the government’s gift. If the FCC moves forward with its Google Channel proposal it would be asking us to simply give Google the benefit of the doubt. The FCC isn’t attaching any specific public interest obligations to users of this spectrum, or heck, even requiring the spectrum be used at all. It’s really all up to Google.

I suppose we can’t really blame Google, though. It’s our fault, not Google’s. If Google can keep pulling favors from the government to add to its $548 billion bottom line, more power to it. It’s up to all of us – most of all the FCC – to not keep giving things to Google for free. It seems we’ve made a habit of it. The Commission should recognize that it created a disincentive for Google to participate in the auction and will continue to dissuade Google from investing in all kinds of things if it keeps handing over the keys to the kingdom.

For as Google well knows, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, it’s still much better to get something for free.