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Google Gets in Bed with Verizon, Adopts Failed 'Less Government' Rhetoric

Government should have as little role as possible in delivering broadband to America, says Google's CEO. Just like government should stay out of banking regulation?

Tuesday's Wall Street Journal features an Op-ed by the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, and the CEO of Verizon, Ivan Seidenberg, about the importance of high-speed Internet access.

It is mostly boring; until it gets to the punchline and tells us that government should have as little role as possible in delivering broadband to America. Just like government should stay out of banking regulation, I take it?

The piece starts well, talking about how broadband is good for America. It is nice to see prominent business leaders elevating that message in the Journal. The second point is dumb and disingenuous for a number of reasons, some of which illuminate the Orwellian position of big corporations in Washington.

Pretty much everyone agrees with these two guys that broadband Internet access is an important driver for economic growth and social opportunity. And we all see that digital divides are still a problem in America: rural and urban, rich and poor. We are falling behind the industrialized world in broadband infrastructure, as they build super-fast, nationwide networks, and we struggle to deliver the same quality even to our biggest cities. And when we do have good super-fast broadband, it is super-expensive -- 2 to 10 times more costly than overseas.

That's why Congress ordered the Federal Communications Commission to produce a National Broadband Plan (just published this month) to chart a course towards world-class, affordable internet for all Americans: team Obama's plan to catch up with the globe's leading broadband nations, and kickstart our economic engines into overdrive. The CEO Op-ed applauds the FCC's Plan. They agree with the FCC that broadband should be everywhere and enhancing all aspects of our lives. And, they say it should be built to the world leading standards that (not incidentally) both of these companies have built into their business plans.

For the first 80%, this is the vanilla ice cream of broadband Op-eds. Then come these two punchline paragraphs:

"The Internet has thrived in an environment of minimal regulation. While our two companies don't agree on every issue, we do agree generally as a matter of policy that the framework of minimal government involvement should continue.

The FCC underscores the importance of creating the right climate for private investment and market-driven innovation to advance broadband. That's the right approach and why we are encouraged to see the FCC's plan."

Let me translate their rhetoric: The FCC's plan is great -- as long as they don't try to implement it. Or rather, as long as they don't do anything that doesn't fit within Verizon and Google's idea of "minimal government involvement." It's no accident that the CEOs don't try to explain what they mean. If they did, they would step directly into a big, steaming pile of hypocrisy.

Most agree that the market is the preferred mechanism for achieving the goals of the nation in digital technology and infrastructure. If the market is working, government plays cheerleader.

But, hello, the whole reason the Congress mandated a National Broadband Plan from the FCC is because the market isn't working; we're slipping perilously behind the rest of the world.

The objectives set out in the plan, all of which are applauded by these companies -- world-class fiber networks, the expansion of broadband for universal availability and adoption, and the extension of broadband into every aspect of our lives -- aren't being delivered without government action.

So to recap the CEOs' position: We need a Plan and government action, so long as it doesn't constitute government involvement in their business.

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