A Senate subcommitte is pushing Google to have Eric Schmidt or Larry Page testify at an upcoming hearing on search competition, and is reportedly using the threat of a subpoena to force an appearance.
"We write to request that Google testify at the hearing and, specifically, that one of you appear as the company's witness," Sens. Herb Kohl and Michael Lee, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, wrote in a June 10 letter to Schmidt and Page.
The subcommitee plans to hold a hearing on competition issues related to Internet search before Congress' August recess. Google offered up chief legal officer David Drummond, according to the letter, but Kohl and Lee said they "strongly prefer" to speak to Schmidt or Page because the hearing will "address fundamental questions of business operations rather than merely legal issues."
The senators said they will be flexible in accommodating the executives' schedules. "We much prefer to work this out by agreement rather than needing to resort to more formal procedures," they said.
Those formal procedures apparently include the threat of a subpoena, according to Bloomberg.
"The threat of subpoenas is one of the ways the committee is pressuring Mountain View, California-based Google to send Page or Schmidt, according to two people familiar with negotiations between the panel and the company," Bloomberg said.
A Google spokeswoman said "we're in talks with the Subcommittee, and we'll send them the executive who can best answer their questions."
Google is currently facing questions over the competitiveness of its search engine across the pond. The debate dates back to February 2010, when Google announced that the European Commission had received complaints from three companies about "whether Google is doing anything to choke off competition or hurt our users and partners." Those companies were Foundem, ejustice.fr, and Ciao! from Bing. Julia Holtz, Google's competition counsel, said at the time that two of the companies—Ciao! from Bing, a Microsoft acquisition; and Foundem—had ties to rival Microsoft. Ciao was purchased by Microsoft in 2008. In February, 1plusV, a parent company of eJustice.fr, joined the complaint, and Microsoft followed suit in March.
In the U.S., Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott opened an antitrust review of Google in September. Abbott is also looking into whether Google intentionally buries search results that might promote its competitors.
Several groups were all in favor of the subcommittee using a subpoena. "What are Page and Schmidt afraid of? What do they have to hide? Congress should use its subpoena power to determine whether Google's dominance of the search industry is enabling the company to monopolize the Internet," said Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson.
"A vibrant, competitive marketplace is essential to consumer welfare, and testimony from Google leadership will provide legislators with answers and a better understanding of the marketplace," said Steve Pociask, president of the American Consumer Institute.