AT&T Complaint Leads to FCC Inquiry of Google Voice
Article by George Norman
On 12 Oct 2009
It just doesn’t end with the controversy over Google Voice, the Google developed service that that puts all your phone numbers under the umbrella of one Google Voice number. It all started when Apple did not let the native Google Voice iPhone app into the App Store, forcing to the Mountain View-based company to consider launching it as a web app instead. Then the FCC launched an inquiry to determine why the app was rejected and whether AT&T was involved in any way – so it asked Apple, AT&T and Google some questions. AT&T answered that it had nothing to do with the rejection; Apple said that it did not reject the app, it is still evaluating it, and Google said that apple did indeed reject the Google Voice app.

But it did not stop there. AT&T then complained to the FCC that Google Voice does not let certain users make outbound calls to some rural areas – these are in fact adult s*x chat lines. AT&T, who believes Google should follow the same rules as regular carriers do, asked the FCC to intervened and the FCC complied.


“The FCC responded to AT&T's complaint by asking us for more information about Google Voice. Some have pointed out that AT&T's complaints are hypocritical given that in the past they have asked the FCC for permission to block calls to these rural areas as well. Why? For exactly the same reasons we restrict them -- the exorbitant termination rates. Of course, AT&T charges customers for their services and also receives hundreds of millions of dollars in universal service subsidies,” commented Washington Telecom and Media Counsel, Richard Whitt.

Google explained that it provides Google Voice free of charge and for that reason it has to restrict certain calls. Google also explained why it should not respect the rules regular carriers abide to:
  • Google voice is a free, web-based software application. Consequently it is not subject to common carrier laws.
  • Google Voice works alongside an existing land or wireless line, it does not replace traditional phone services. If the user wants to make an outbound call that is restricted by Google Service, that person can always use any other phone device to make the call.
  • Access to Google voice is made by invitation. Only a limited number of users have access to Google Voice.

Richard Whitt again: “The reason we restrict calls to certain local phone carriers' numbers is simple. Not only do they charge exorbitant termination rates for calls, but they also partner with adult s*x chat lines and "free" conference calling centers to drive high volumes of traffic. This practice has been called "access stimulation" or "traffic pumping" (clearly by someone with a sense of humor). Google Voice is a free application and we want to keep it that way for all our users -- which we could not afford to do if we paid these ludicrously high charges.AT&T apparently now wants web applications -- from Skype to Google Voice -- to be treated the same way as traditional phone services. Their approach is what a former FCC chairman has called "regulatory capitalism," the practice of using regulation to block or slow down innovation.”

Tags: Google, Google Voice, AT&T, FCC, Federal Communications Commission
About the author: George Norman
George is a news editor.
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