Google Voice: AT&T Picks on Google, Complains to FCC
Article by George Norman
On 29 Sep 2009
Yet more controversy surrounds Google Voice, the Google developed service that puts all your phone numbers under the umbrella of one Google Voice number (learn more about it here). This time it is the US carrier AT&T that has a bone to pick with Google – it has filed a letter with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) in which it says that Google Voice does not let certain users make outbound calls to some rural areas. These are not your run of the mill rural phone numbers, these are “inflated access charge phone numbers” – like in adult phone chat.

AT&T has asked the FCC to intervene and solve the situation. AT&T believes that with Google Voice, the Mountain View-based search engine giant should follow the same rules that all other carriers follow and consequently Google should put these calls through, no matter how much they cost.


Richard Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel explains the situation: “Local telephone carriers charge long-distance companies for originating and terminating calls to and from their networks. Certain local carriers in rural areas charge AT&T and other long-distance companies especially high rates to connect calls to their networks. Sometimes these local carriers partner and share revenue with adult chat services, conference calling centers, party lines, and others that are able to attract lots of incoming phone calls to their networks. Under the common carrier laws, AT&T and other traditional phone companies are required to connect these calls. In the past they've argued that these rural carriers are abusing the system to "establish grossly excessive access charges under false pretenses," and to “offer kickbacks to operators of p*rnographic chat lines and other calling services.”

Google is on board with AT&T on one issue: that the current compensation system is not favorable for the carrier and that the FCC should take steps to fix this flawed carrier compensation system. But when it comes to respecting the same rules that other carriers respect, Google’s opinions collide with those of AT&T.

Google Voice may resemble a traditional phone service, but there are some significant differences:
- 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.

“AT&T is trying to make this about Google's support for an open Internet, but the comparison just doesn't fly. The FCC's open Internet principles apply only to the behavior of broadband carriers -- not the creators of Web-based software applications. Even though the FCC does not have jurisdiction over how software applications function, AT&T apparently wants to use the regulatory process to undermine Web-based competition and innovation,” added Richard Whitt.

In related Google Voice controversy news, we have:
- Google came up with a native Google Voice iPhone app, but the app was not accepted into the App Store, forcing Google to consider a Google Voice web app instead (see here and here)
- The FCC launched an investigation in order to find out why the Google Voice app was rejected (see here)
- Apple responded to the investigation by saying that it did not reject the app, it is merely giving it a proper going over. AT&T responded by saying they put no pressure on Apple to reject the app. Google responded as well, but it said that Apple did indeed reject the app (see here).

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