I suppose it was inevitable. Let Google enter the policy arena and suddenly that’s all anyone will ever think about. Never mind that Media Access Project and New America Foundation first participated in this policy exercise back in the spectrum task force days in 2002, that we mobilized around this issue (and I blogged on it) back in 2004 before Google or Microsoft showed up, or that New America Foundation has published some ungodly amount of content on this well before Google even had a wireless policy. No, like last summer and the 700 MHz auction, or the 2006 Net Neutrality fight, it is all about the Great Google Overlords blah blah blah. Because everyone knows that no one in Washington really cares about the public interest groups and its all about refereeing industry food fights.
I should note that the utter refusal of the trade press (and others who should know better) leads them to consistently screw up on where the Commission actually goes. Flashback to last November, and I defy you to find any oh-so wise insider with the cynicism that passes for wisdom these days who thought for a moment that a Kevin Martin-led FCC would even consider our complaint about Comcast blocking BitTorrent. When Martin defied expectation and put it out on notice, no one thought we had a chance of getting an actual judgment in our favor. And of course, when we did win, it didn’t disprove anything, since it was either all the work of the Great Google Overlords or a clever reverse fake by Martin to screw Net Neutrality.
I’d let it go as excellent political cover (since God knows most industry lobbyists make the same mistake) and a reason why folks should read my blog to get some balance, but the pernicious myth that no one in Washington cares about anything but major corporate players is one of those things that becomes self-fulfilling prophecy when regular citizens buy into it. The fact is that decisionmakers and policy folks are all over the map here in DC. You will find people who are wholly owned subsidiaries, people who are driven exclusively by ideology and — surprising to many — a large number of folks in both parties trying to do what they think is the right thing given all the information they have and what they think is right. I class all five FCC Commissioners, even the ones with whom I most frequently disagree, as being in this category.
Does it matter that Google is involved? Of course. Not only is it a question of available lobbying resources, but also a question of whether anyone is likely to take advantage of the rule change. That’s not always determinative, but it certainly helps. As the Frontline debacle shows, FCC Commissioners need to worry about what happens if they guess wrong, while still finding the courage to try new things when required. Seeing a company like Google come gives a certain amount of reassurance and makes it a lot easier for commissioners to beleive us public interest folks when we say “yes, open the white spaces to unlicensed and it will get used.”
But for Om Malik over at Giga Om and other well informed press folks to make their judgments about the white spaces based on Google’s involvement or non-involvement is as ridiculous as the worshippers of the Gods of the Marketplace deciding based on ideology without regard to actual evidence. Google’s financial interests are obvious, their interest here long standing, and their latest outreach effort no more or less noxious than those of any other company. In this case, they have the advantage of showcasing organizations that came on the scene (like MAP and NAF) long before they did.
As I have said before and will say many times again, citizen’s movements must be citizen driven. That is their strength, and why so many pundits and lobbyists who mistake lazy cynicism for experience and wisdom seem utterly incapable of understanding. But as long we believe it we will continue to change the world — and reporters like Malik will continue to be smugly wrong about what to expect.
Stay tuned . . . .