FierceTelecom Leaders: Rick Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel, Google

FierceTelcom: How would you say Google’s lobbying strategy has evolved? What successes do you think you have had off the top of your head, and how would you rate them?

Richard Whitt: Well, I joined Google back in January of 2007, so I’ve been here a little over two years now. And then prior to that I spent consulting after I left MCI, and Google was my primary client during that period of time, so I’ve actually kind of worked at the company more or less for three years. And there’s clearly been an evolution in the way that the company has approached Washington. There’s been a clear evolution in the DC office itself. And I’m certainly pleased to be part of that process.

I think early on, the executives of the company saw DC as a place that was necessary, at least from a telecom side, of playing defense. And network neutrality is the obvious issue. We all saw the quotes from Ed Whittaker in the fall of [20]05. And that really spurred a lot of the tech companies, like a Google, a Yahoo, an eBay, Amazon, etc. who had not been as active in this space to suddenly get involved. Because they realized that unless they were paying attention and getting involved in the advocacy front, that the telecom providers might well get their way, that they had done at the FCC in the previous months in terms of deregulating the broadband plan.

So it was all about defense. I think now over time, and I think this may be attributed at least in part to my joining the company—[in] my years at MCI, I learned that it’s a two-way street, and you can just as easily play offense as defense. And so I think our involvement in both the 700 MHz auction and then in the white spaces proceeding, both are examples of where we saw opportunities to drive an agenda that is all about openness, is all about creating new platforms for innovation and growth and entrepreneurship. It’s all about consumer choice.

At the same time, I think it’s fair to say, form my view at least, we’re not about using the regulatory process just to get a regulatory outcome. So I think in both cases we saw the business opportunities to get very tailored policy outcomes from a federal agency, which drives market-based initiatives. So with [the] 700 [MHz auction], for example, you may seen, we did not ask for openness across all of the spectrum blocks, unlike some of our friends in the public interest community. We focused on the C-Block. And we were willing to go in there and bid for the spectrum because saw this as not just creating good press at the FCC, but we saw this as a way of turning openness from what was then, frankly, an open joke among wireless carriers, to now a very serious business proposition.

We saw it as a good way of the commission using its ability to put that out there as a business model. And now of course you’ve got the Android operating system. You’ve got the ODI initiative from Verizon. You’ve got AT&T saying, “We were always open, we just didn’t talk about it before.” You’ve got the Clearwire open platform. So you’re seeing lots of great examples now popping up in the marketplace, offensively driving toward gaining things, but doing so in a way that engenders market-based opportunities, rather than just staying on the course of the prescriptive government approach. That’s the thing, that from my view, I’m always looking for ways for us to advocate for in our public policy outreach.

Continued...

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