FierceTelecom Leaders: Rick Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel, Google, Part 3

FierceTelecom: Do you think that Google's relationship with Genachowski would be more seamless or more intuitively in tune to technology policy than it was with Chairman Martin?

Richard Whitt: We had an excellent relationship with Chairman Martin. Obviously he has his detractors. I felt like we always worked well together. On some of the key issues that we were concerned about, whether it's the 700 MHz auction, or the white spaces proceeding, or some of the network neutrality or openness issues, he always seemed willing to listen to us and the relationship there was quite good. That said, again, he was quite interested in the technology and supportive of the technology, but as I mentioned, he wasn't of the technology community, at least in terms of his background. One could plausibly see more of an affinity for someone like Julius, to the extent that he's the chairman again, just in terms of talking to our executives or discussing our technology solutions, things like that. I guess that certainly is possible. But we had a good relationship with Chairman Martin and we look forward to having a good relationship with whoever the next chairman might be. 

FierceTelecom: Google CEO Eric Schmidt was rumored to be considered for the U.S. CTO position, the cabinet-level position that President Obama said he wants. And Mr. Schmidt was obviously a strong supporter of Obama during the campaign. What kind of a seat at the table does Google have within the administration when it comes to technology policy? More generally, how important does Google see this whole idea of the position of CTO in terms of setting and executing technology policy for the country?  

Richard Whitt: Obviously Eric is involved in the team of economic advisors that President Obama has been calling upon to help work with him on developing economic policies for the country. So, we're very pleased that Eric has that role. I think it's been a good relationship thus far. I really can't speak much more than that in terms of our interactions. That's something you'd probably have to talk to our CEO's folks about. 

The larger question is an interesting one, in that with the CTO position, I think there was some question about what it was early on. I think some people believed it was a combination of how to keep the trains running internally in the government and then some kind of strong policy outreach role, a very visible public figure. And I think as time went on it was clarified that this was really intended to be more a role of someone who was going to make the government much more efficient, more streamlined, use the best technologies to improves processes and the like. And so I think it's an extremely important role. I think we believe that technology can bring enormous benefit whether you're a consumer or whether you're start-up company, or you're the largest government or single customer of technology in the world. Technology brings massive benefits. So if there's a way for this new CTO position to help drive the U.S. government to adopt and utilize technology more efficiently, then I think it's all for the best. 

FierceTelecom: How heavily does Google expect the telecom companies and wireless industry to lobby against such net neutrality and open access provisions and what is its position in terms of combating those efforts?

Richard Whitt: I think network neutrality, open Internet, some have said that it's hard to define it, which I disagree with. I think it's a problem sometimes people face is, we're talking about en environment. We'd like to have an environment where consumers and innovators have the ability to freely use the Internet without anyone getting in their way. It's a pretty basic point. It's taking the end-to-end principle of the Internet and making sure that extends all the way through broadband networks. So it doesn't seem that much more complicated than that. 

So depending on what part of that you're talking about, and wireline versus wireless, I can understand the wireless carriers to this point have not had to deal with such a mandate. We had the Skype petition at the FCC, which is still spending, and we've got now the precedent of the C-Block, we've got now, as I mentioned before, the marketplace of open platforms being adopted as real business models. So, I'd like to think over time, particularly on the wireless side, that the providers are going to become more comfortable with the concept. And if they begin adopting these concepts as part of their everyday business practices, that would start to obviate the need to have laws and regulations.

The problem has been to this point, there has been resistance, even on the simple matter of whether you can download applications to a handset. We had considerable problems going back three, four years now, documented well by Tim Wu and others, where those application downloads are routinely being blocked. It's not as much the case now. So as the situation changes, and both providers and consumers accept the notion of the open ethos of the Internet, and now being transcribed into the wireless world, then I think resistance would fall, and again, the need for outright legislation would fall. But it remains to be seen how that all plays out this year.     

FierceTelecom Leaders: Rick Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel, Google, Part 3