“Freedom” is a word that gets used a lot in Washington, but what does it mean, exactly, for Google and its users? Tuesday night, our CEO Eric Schmidt told the Progress & Freedom Foundation’s annual Aspen Summit that freedom and openness are the core principles that helped make possible the Internet's – and Google's -- birth and growth.

The Internet was built on open standards, Eric noted, and that those platforms are really platforms of economic opportunity and free expression. Free markets and open standards have led to so much innovation, that it’s usually best for government not to rush into regulating new technology. And he cited both political empowerment (such as the YouTube presidential debates) and economic empowerment (like the $3 billion that we paid out to website owners last year through our advertising partnerships) as the fruits of Internet freedom.

In the policy arena, Eric offered three specific calls to action. First, he said we need to defend freedom of speech as more speech comes online – and give teeth to the issue by pressing governments to classify censorship as a trade barrier. Second, we need to continue working toward universal broadband access, by government collaborating with industry and making sure that networks remain content neutral. And third, he called on government to be more transparent to its citizens – citing as an example our Sitemaps partnership with the federal government and five state governments.

But freedom wasn’t the only thing on Eric’s mind Tuesday. The PFF crowd was particularly interested in Google’s positions on both the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction and on net neutrality (and posed a few questions skeptical of our stance). Without announcing any definitive plans to bid, and cautioning that we're still carefully evaluating our options, Eric indicated that Google “probably” would decide to participate in the auction.

Check out the complete video of Eric’s talk, and tell us what freedom on the 'Net means to you.