Is Google susceptible to being classified as a carrier because of its Google Voice, Call Phones from Gmail, and Google Chat with voice and video capabilities? Analyst opinions differ.
These days, the mere mention that Google is offering a new VOIP (voice over
IP) service raises concerns about whether the company is creeping closer to
becoming a carrier.
One industry analyst raised this question last month when Google unveiled
Call Phones from Gmail.
With Call Phones from Gmail, users can type the name of their existing Gmail
contacts or punch in a number for the first time, hit enter, and Gmail begins
ringing the person's landline or cell phone. Calls are free to the U.S.
International calls start at 2 cents a minute.
The feature, essentially the Google Voice phone management capability tucked
into Gmail, moved
Google into closer competition with Skype, the consumer
VOIP market leader with some 560 million users.
Users quickly took to the service, with Gmail users making
1 million calls through the first 24 hours of the
service's availability in the U.S.
10 million through the first week.
Yet IDC analyst Irene Berlinksy cautions that Call Phones
from Gmail, Google Voice and other communications products such as Google Chat
that have video calling could be make the company a target for carrier regulation.
"With Google VOIP's ability to place calls to any number, it creeps
ever closer to regulation and risks classification as a voice service, which
would subject it to fees and rules. If this happens, Google VOIP's ability to
remain profitable falls," Berlinsky says.
If this argument sounds familiar, it's because it echoes claims
made by AT&T when it blasted the search provider
last September for blocking calls in rural areas.
Google and other companies do this to avoid getting gouged by "traffic
pumping," which allows small phone companies to charge phone companies
exorbitant fees for voice connections.
Richard Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel for Google, argues that
Google could not be classified as a carrier because Google Voice is free and is
not intended as a replacement for traditional carriers, which charge for their