[Please remember that posts here are my personal thoughts and not necessarily those of Google Inc.]
On November 20, 2006, in a small auditorium at Oxford University, I said the following:
"We've been getting notes from some of the telco carriers who are saying 'look, you need to stop our customers from downloading this thing' [Google Maps for Mobile] . . . They're inserting themselves in between you and an application that you want. I think that has scary, scary implications."
Though most of the discussion that day had been about other startups and innovation, a question came up about mobile and I just couldn't help but express myself with instinctive candor. Within hours, my response was all over the newspapers and the phone was ringing off the hook. A lot of folks inside the company were upset and worried that Google would suffer retribution at the hands of carriers. Quite simply, I was in the doghouse.
At the same time, I didn't regret what I had said. It was true. The state of neutrality for the wireless Net in the United States was woeful. We had inspiring entrepreneurs at Google building game-changing products and some users were not able to get their hands on those apps. It bummed me out. Thankfully, I wasn't the only person at Google who felt that way.
Turns out, a lot of people at Google cared deeply about these issues. So we built a humbling team of like-minded folks to explore what we could do to make the wireless industry more open. At first, it was comprised of all volunteers, though we have since grown to much bigger ranks including dozens of full-time RF engineers and policy gurus. In fact, we have now grown too big for the room in which we hold our meetings and chairs are scarce.
The group is cooperatively managed by a handful of us as peers. Our meetings are open to any Googlers who want to contribute and our internal mailing list is available to any of our colleagues who want to subscribe. Our mission is ambitious, but clear: do what it takes to inspire or create a mobile ecosystem in the United States that will allow user choice to flourish and level the playing field for new applications and devices.
I could write for a while about how busy this year has been and how much my teammates have accomplished. You can read some of our updates on the Google blogs, and in the event you get bored with facts and certainty, there is more than enough wild speculation about what else we might be doing.
In any event, we have seen openness and consumer choice thrust to into the national spotlight. The Republican chairman of the FCC, and three of his colleagues, heeded our call for more openness in wireless. Congressional hearings have been called with members, including Republicans, rallying to support the principles of openness. We have seen traditionally conservative business magazines and newspapers reverse course and espouse greater consumer flexibility and more choices for users. It has been such a rewarding time to work with this team and to see the impact we can all have working together.
In that light, I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment to recognize the sea change that occurred in the US wireless industry yesterday. As the largest wireless carrier in the country, Verizon Wireless announced that they would soon allow customers the option of bringing their own device to and accessing their own applications on the Verizon network. The news spread quickly with all manner of analysis and conclusions being drawn about why this happened. Did Google force Verizon's hand? Was this an auction signaling tactic? Was this some kind of gift to the FCC? I actually don't think any of those are true, though I will leave it to you to form your own opinions and theories.
What matters more to me than the motivation is the result. While Verizon by no means committed to the full openness principles for which Google has been advocating, and substantial risk remains in exactly how they choose to implement their ideas, I do think we need to recognize this as a very positive step forward. Publishing technical standards for device integration and promising to host a developer conference are commendable moves. Offering retail support to these devices is also noteworthy and a very welcome development. I sincerely look forward to seeing Lowell McAdam's vision come to fruition and I congratulate him and his team on their new direction. I hope we have the chance to work together in the future.
In the meantime, yesterday's announcement causes me to pause and reflect on the whirlwind of this past year. There is a lot of work to do still, and the issues of openness and user choice in wireless are far from resolved. However, we have all come a very long way and it is clear that the good guys are building momentum. Thank you to Eric, Larry, Sergey, David and many other members of the Google management team who have shown their faith in our bold and admittedly unorthodox notions and who continue to give us the resources and support to try to change the world. Above all, thank you to the members of this team who have worked selflessly and tirelessly this entire year with no promise of reward or recognition. You all inspire me.