Quid Pro Quo, Mister Schmidt!

Silicon Valley has finally begun to learn the virtues of playing the political game, but some legislators appear to be tiring of a subtle approach to explaining how things work in Washington. Last week, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was summoned before the Senate Judiciary Committee to be harangued about its “anticompetitive” practice of trying to make life simpler for its users by providing results from its own mapping, stock ticker, news, and other services atop the results for appropriate search queries. As many scholars and technologists have observed, insisting on a principle of “search neutrality” when it comes to these types of associated services doesn’t make much sense, because search results are essentially, and necessarily, an opinion (albeit an algorithmically generated one) about what information will be most relevant and useful in response to a user’s query. Schmidt did find one friend on the committee, however: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sprang to his defense, declaring that he’d spoken to many tech entrepreneurs in his state who regarded Google as a net boon to competition. Then, in a remarkably shameless exchange—which Schumer later recounted in a press release on his own Web site—Schumer hinted at how the company might ensure that it would continue to have a powerful champion on the Judiciary Committee:

Schumer: Last year, Google selected Kansas City as a site for your  new ultra high-speed Internet service. That really helped Kansas City. Hudson Valley’s very eager to be another test place for your network. We have IBM there; we have a lot of high tech industry. It’s growing, but it’s being hindered by a lack of Internet capacity. Would you agree to consider the Hudson Valley as a future test site for your broadband project?

Schmidt: I think the answer is absolutely. I’ve been there and it’s both a great technology place and also a wonderful natural resource. What we’re doing in Kansas City is we’re actually experimenting with a new model for broadband—different pricing, different pricing, and so forth—and if it works I think it has an opportunity to really change the discussion of broadband in this country. We want it to succeed first in Kansas City… so, absolutely.

The question, of course, had nothing to do with the nominal topic of the hearing—but Schmidt’s answer may have been the most important for helping his company avoid the burden of additional regulation. One can only assume Rick Santorum wishes he still enjoyed the same kind of leverage.

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