Google will "probably" bid on airwaves, Schmidt says

In an engaging speech to fellow techno-libertarians, Google's CEO defends openness on the Internet, and says his company will probably make a bid to become a wireless carrier.

Published August 23, 2007 12:10PM (EDT)

Like George Bush but only not fake, Google CEO Eric Schmidt piloted his own twin-engine jet into Aspen yesterday, and when he landed put forth Google's telecom mission: Keeping the Internet "free and open." He added, "If it goes the other way, we've got a serious problem."

Schmidt also noted that because the Federal Communications Commission "got the spirit of what we were asking for" in setting out rules for the upcoming auction of the 700 MHz band of radio space, Google would likely make a bid for some of the space when it goes on sale next year. Google, that is, may become a wireless carrier.

Schmidt's essential message -- delivered to a group assembled by the libertarian Washington think tank the Progress and Freedom Foundation -- was that because the Internet is based on compatible standards and interoperability, and because principles of "openness" are at the heart of its success, we've got to cultivate and protect openness to keep the net functioning well.

He highlighted four main prerogatives for regulators and others interested in seeing a booming global network: pushing for universal broadband; pushing for interoperability in how networks operate; "making information available" (a thing Google does pretty well); and defending freedom of speech.

Schmidt's a pro-limited-government, free-market-loving libertarian in the mold of many who'd come to see him speak, but he's not absolutist in his belief system, and recognizes areas where government intervention can actually preserve freedom and keep markets humming (not to mention help Google). In recent years his firm's pushed hard for such efforts -- first in lobbying legislators to mandate network neutrality on broadband lines (which hasn't yet happened), and second in asking the FCC to allow people to use applications and devices of their choice on wireless networks (which the agency agreed to last month.)

I watched this speech on YouTube after seeing excerpts in the Washington Post; I didn't intend to get through the whole thing, but Schmidt is engaging and animated, and though he rambles a bit, it's not a bad way to spend an hour.

So if you're so inclined, here you are:

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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