Media counsel for Google speaks to political institute

Ten years ago, the whining and screeching sounds of a dial-up modem signaled the entrance to the Internet. It does not seem like long ago but neither Google nor the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet existed at this time.

On Tuesday, the institute invited Google’s media counsel to campus for a discussion on the Internet giant’s plans to become the largest broadband wireless provider in the nation.

“The event . is the first of a series of events that will look into tech policy issues and emerging trends in the political space,” said Julie Germany, deputy director of the institute, a program in the Graduate School of Political Management. “IPDI has evolved and expanded over the past nine years. We will continue to study how technology affects politics, but we also study the reverse – how politics affects technology.”

The institute was originally started in 1998 as the Democracy Online Project, when “the Internet was considered to be the ‘Wild West’ of politics,” Germany said.

The institute’s mission is to “promote the use of the Internet and new communication technologies,” according to its Web site. In addition to conducting extensive research, the institute publishes reports and hosts speakers such Rick Whitt, Google’s media counsel.

At the institute’s most recent event Tuesday, Whitt discussed his company’s possible purchase of a frequency band that was previously used by television broadcasters. The frequency will be vacated in February 2009, and if Google bought it, the company would become a major player in wireless telecommunications.

“Google is interested in connecting with users,” Whitt said. “(However,) Google has not made a commitment to bid.”

He acknowledged that Google has “little experience as a service provider” and has a “concern of relying on few companies” for wireless Internet access. Whitt said that telecommunications giants, such as Verizon, are not giving the user the entire Internet experience.

The institue plans to host Verizon as a part of their 2007 IPDI Ideas Series, which will bring in speakers once or twice a month.

Junior Chris Wimbush is organizing the Ideas Series as part of his internship at IPDI.

He said that he took the internship to expand his knowledge on the politics of the Internet and to make contacts.

“I joined IPDI because I was looking for a more ‘academic’ internship that would really allow me to explore my interests, telecommunications and Internet policy,” Wimbush said. “IPDI really allows its research assistants to take on meaningful projects beyond just pushing paper and I think that’s something we all appreciate.”

Germany said students who study at the institute gain valuable experience and often obtain successful careers.

Wimbush said he will help the institute organize the national Politics Online Conference, to be held March 4 and 5 of next year.

Justin Beckley, a graduate student at the institute, plans to develop a “poli-tech lab” to research the viability of an open source electronic voting system.

“They finish their time at IPDI with at least one major publication, event or project under their belts,” Germany said. “Most of our alumni work the field of practical politics, as political consultants, issue advocates, journalists and nonprofit leaders.”

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