Get your popcorn ready and pull up a seat. In a few hours, Google's Eric Schmidt will sit down across from a panel of U.S. Senators investigating whether Google abuses its dominance on the Web.
We'll take a wild guess and suggest that Schmidt, the company's former chief executive and current executive chairman, will reject any such charge. In fact, according to a copy of his written testimony, Schmidt is going to portray Google's success as inextricably linked with its determination to put consumer interests first. "Keeping up requires constant investment and innovation," according to Schmidt, "and if Google fails in this effort users can and will switch. The cost of going elsewhere is zero, and users can and do use other sources to find the information they want."
That's the boilerplate stuff and Schmidt, a polished presenter, is going to have to be at his best when it's time to go off script. He can count Google rivals Nextag, Yelp and Expedia offering a starkly different portrayal before the same Senate panel and how Schmidt handles himself could go a long way toward influencing future moves by the government. The Federal Trade Commission is already looking into antitrust complaints made by Google's competition. Schmidt was a senior exec with Sun Microsystems in the 1990s when Sun and a clutch of other Silicon Valley companies worked behind the scenes to push the Justice Department to go after Microsoft and he certainly is keen to avoid a similar mano-a-mano slug fest with the trustbusters.
On the surface, at least, it shouldn't be much of a stretch for Schmidt to convince the Senators that Google plays by the rules. But the political theater is more for the television cameras. The question is come down to whether it's going to make a whit of difference to regulators already on the case.