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News analysis: With Obama win, Google emerges as a D.C. player

Its CEO, Eric Schmidt, has the president-elect's ear

November 13, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- Oh, to be Google Inc. right now. Its CEO, Eric Schmidt, is advising President-elect Barack Obama on economic policy. And who can forget the debate in Congress over Net neutrality and Google's battle with the telecoms?

Certainly not Schmidt, whose pro-neutrality stance had a Verizon Communications Inc. executive calling for an end to "Google's 'Free Lunch.'"

Schmidt may soon be eating his lunches for free at the White House -- with a new president who also supports Net neutrality. How delicious is that?

To help celebrate what could finally be victory over the telecommunications firms on Net neutrality -- look for a big push next year -- Google this week bumped up its bandwidth use by unveiling video chat for Gmail.

It gets even better for Google. Obama wants to appoint a chief technology officer with the ability to influence, if not control, the IT direction of the vast federal workforce and all it touches.

What if that new CTO insists on buying open-source software as a way to save money? It's a prospect raised by Robert Atkinson, president of The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank. Obama's call for an open and transparent government, "could mean a mandate for open source or a mandate for open standards," Atkinson said.

Something like that could benefit Google both directly and indirectly. Open standards could lead to a shift to open-source products such as OpenOffice and Linux desktops. And it could push government agencies to try software as a service -- including Google's Gmail and Docs online offerings.

The presumption among tech policy groups is that an Obama administration will be more than just tech-aware; it'll be tech-aggressive and more likely to push the federal government in new directions.

The Bush administration was "so tech-unoriented," said Ed Black, who heads the Computer & Communications Industry Association. "You are going to see a whole lot more people in important positions in this administration who do 'get' tech."

John Palafoutas, the senior president for domestic policy and congressional affairs at AeA (formerly the American Electronics Association) agreed with that view. The people coming into the Obama administration "know how to use technology, and they're not afraid of technology," Palafoutas said.

There's good and bad in having a tech-focused administration in the White House.

On the plus side, the tech industry will likely rally around efforts to boost research funding, as well as initiatives for improving broadband and Internet access. But an Obama administration might also begin new battles in Congress, namely on privacy and security regulations. And those kinds of fights could pose huge risks for Google.

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