In June, 2006, Sergey Brin, one of the co-founders of Google, went to Washington, D.C., hoping to create a little good will. Google was something of a Washington oddity then. Although it was a multibillion-dollar company, with enormous power, it had no political-action committee, and its Washington office had opened, in 2005, with a staff of one, in suburban Maryland. The visit, which was reported in the Washington Post, was hurried, and, in what was regarded by some as a snub, Brin failed to see some key people, including Senator Ted Stevens, of Alaska, who was then the chairman of the Commerce Committee and someone whose idea of the Internet appeared to belong to the analog era. (He once said that a staff member had sent him "an Internet.") Brin told me recently, "Because it was the last minute, we didn't schedule everything we wanted to." It probably didn't help that his outfit that day included a dark T-shirt, jeans, and silver mesh sneakers.
Brin did meet with Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, and they spoke about "network neutrality"--an effort that Google and other companies are making to insure that the telephone and cable companies that provide high-speed access to the Internet don't favor one Web site over another. Around the time of Brin's visit, an organization called Hands Off the Internet, financed in part by telecommunications companies, ran full-page newspaper advertisements in which it accused Google of wanting to create a monopoly and block "new innovation"; one ad featured a grim photograph of a Google facility housing a sinister-looking "massive server farm." Brin recognized it as a warning. "I certainly realized that we had to think about these things, and that people were going to misrepresent us," he said. "We should be entitled to our representation in government."