Google’s Schmidt to testify before Senate on antitrust

After declining a Senate panel’s first invitation to Washington, Google chairman Eric Schmidt has agreed to testify before the lawmakers as the federal government conducts a broad investigation of the search company’s competitive business practices.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, and ranking member Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) confirmed that Google agreed to send Schmidt to testify in a September hearing on online competition. It will be the first time Schmidt has gone before Congress as a Google executive.

Schmidt, no stranger to Washington, is among several corporate executives who advise President Obama on job creation and innovation. But he will be in the hot seat as Google defends the practices that have made it a powerful first point of entry for most Internet users trying to find information on the Web.

Google has also been under federal regulatory scrutiny for its privacy policies and for the scooping of Wi-fi data from residents by its Street View cars.

The lawmakers sent a letter to Schmidt and Google chief executive Larry Page asking for one of them to testify before lawmakers, who are trying to determine whether the company uses its dominance in Internet search to promote its own products and block out competitors.

Google said last month that it received a subpoena from the the Federal Trade Commission as part of a government investigation into the company’s business practices. Critics say the company’s overwhelming share of the search market gives it too much power over businesses that rely on the search engine to make their presence known to consumers.

“This will allow us to have a truly informational and thorough public hearing,” Kohl said in a statement.

Google at first offered to have its chief legal officer, David Drummond, testify. But the lawmakers demanded that top executives address questions about the firm’s business operations.

“Senators Kohl and Lee expressed a strong desire to have our executive chairman appear in front of the subcommittee, and we're happy to accommodate them,” a Google spokesperson said. “We appreciate their willingness to work with us to make it happen this fall.”

Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.

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