Google CEO Eric Schmidt, in Washington this week as a member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, popped into The Washington Post to chat with reporters and editors about a number of topics, including an FCC vote on net neutrality.
Google's name has come up repeatedly in the debate over net neutrality, largely by AT&T, which believes that Google is just as much a gatekeeper of the Internet, albeit in a different way, as the companies that manage the Internet pipeline.
Schmidt told The Post that he favors net neutrality, but only to a certain point, according a report by The Post's Mike Musgrove, a former colleague of mine. The bottom line: Schmidt's interest in net neutrality is in keeping the providers from favoring some sites over others because of the traffic demands they place on the networks. However, there's a fine line there - and Schmidt says it's possible for the government "to screw the Internet up, big-time."
For those who don't know, I am a native of this region now known as Silicon Valley (no one called it that when I was a kid) but found myself transplanted in Washington for a couple of years when I worked for The Post. It was there - from working in The Post's newsroom to interviewing folks on Capitol Hill - that I realized how different the two worlds are. Techies and politicians think differently and have different agendas.
With that said, I found the second half of Musgrove's report especially interesting.
Google, Schmidt said, is strong enough to weather the storms that may arise from Washington policy decisions but new startups may not be. Schmidt let it be known that he's not a fan of Capitol Hill politics that doesn't rely on things like metrics, algorithms and, most importantly, facts. Schmidt's quote from the report:
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. (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.
Hmmm. Maybe there's an app to fix that.
Schmidt also acknowledged that the tech industry hasn't been very strong on lobbying in Washington - but that's not really the strength of the tech industry. Out here in Silicon Valley, the focus is on innovation, not politics. I love the kicker quote from Schmidt:
The part of politics in Washington that's 'who you know' and all that kind of stuff, it's just not very interesting.