Google chief favors net neutrality but is wary of government regulation of Web

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By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 23, 2009

Google chief executive Eric Schmidt favors net neutrality, but only to a point: While the tech player wants to make sure that telecommunications giants don't steer Internet traffic in a way that would favor some devices or services over others, he also believes that it would be a terrible idea for the government to involve itself as a regulator of the broader Internet.

"It is possible for the government to screw the Internet up, big-time," he said. Google is strong enough as a company to weather any possible outcome on the issue, he said. But what he worries about "is the next start-up."

Thursday marked a milestone in the debate over net neutrality, as the Federal Communications Commission voted to move forward on how the government will police access to the Internet, but Schmidt was in town in his role as a member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He also sat down for an hour-long conversation with reporters and editors at The Washington Post.

Schmidt doesn't come across as Capitol Hill's biggest fan. Google is a tech company that loves facts, metrics and algorithms, after all. Schmidt might prefer a political system that dealt in such quantities.

"I spend so much time in Washington now because of the work that I've been doing, I deal with all these people who make assertions without fact," he said. Policy people "will hand me some report that they wrote or they'll make some assertion, and I'll say, 'Well, is that true?' -- and they can't prove it."

Perhaps that could change some day, he suggested. Technology could help.

With Google's vast power for capturing and remembering data, Schmidt painted a picture in which technology could help quantify and verify the assertions made in policy documents. "Government is highly measurable, most of it," he said. "We can actually see how many people got this shot or read this report or so forth. A government -- a transparent government -- should be able to [measure] that."

As for Google's relationship with Washington's power structure, Schmidt said the tech industry is still not as strong as others in its lobbying representation on Capitol Hill, but that that's fine with him. Google, and the tech industry, does better for itself when it focuses on ideas and innovation -- and not politics, he said.

"The part of politics in Washington that's 'who you know' and all that kind of stuff, it's just not very interesting," he said.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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