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The hidden costs of being a technology innovator: Google’s $3.8M state lobbying spend

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Politico has an interesting look at the lobbying Google need to do to ensure that it’s technological plans don’t get outlawed by legislation.

We’ve mentioned before one obvious need for lobbying: ensuring that self-driving cars are legal to use once they are eventually ready to go on sale to the public.

Google’s self-driving car has posed that particular challenge: Twelve states this year alone have explored some new regulation of those vehicles on local roadways, according to data compiled for POLITICO by the National Conference of State Legislatures. And in almost each of those capitals, Google has lobbied intensely to stave off any new, onerous restrictions …

Where drivers are controlling their own cars, Google has lobbied against plans to outlaw wearing Glass while driving – and fighting privacy concerns more generally.

Google similarly has trained its sights on new rules that would ban drivers from wearing Glass, its computer, while behind the wheel. Illinois and Delaware are two states that recently have considered such laws — and places where Google has mounted a lobbying defense. Proposed restrictions on Glass also number among the many items on Google’s regulatory radar in New York

The company has also lobbied for changes to city and State laws to facilitate the roll-out of its high-speed broadband network, Fiber.

The company aims to take Fiber to a total of 34 cities — possibly including San Jose, Charlotte and Atlanta — but only if it’s able to secure enough local interest along with changes to city and state laws. Already, Google has deployed its lobbyists and lawyers on the ground — long before it has summoned any shovels or dump trucks.

Google wants cities to map out nearby poles and cable lines. In some cases, it has asked regulators to change laws to permit the company and others easier access to that infrastructure, too. Google further seeks a point person in each Fiber location to handle and streamline the building applications process.

One lobbyist, Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge, said that Google has more appreciation than most tech companies of the importance of good relationships with local and State legislature.

If you want to be serious, and you want to be innovative, and you want to have states courting you as a potential source of jobs, you have to establish relations on the ground. Google is a lot more out there than other tech companies have been in terms of understanding that.

What’s interesting to me, though, is just how little Google seems to be spending. A total of $3.8M a year is not much for one of the largest companies in the world – and the individual amounts cited by Politico are almost incredibly small, ranging from $30k to $110k across an entire year of campaigns on specific issues. If Google’s lobbying is successful, it is clearly very cost-effective when you consider just how much is at stake.

Photo credit: AP

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