AT&T sent a letter to the FCC protesting Google's blocking of telephone calls from consumers that use its Google Voice service to call phone numbers with inflated access charges in certain rural areas. By blocking these calls, Google reduces its access expenses, giving it an advantage phone carriers are prevented from enjoying and thus skewering the competition principles in U.S. network neutrality laws, AT&T claims. Google argued that Google Voice must not be accorded the same treatment as services from phone carriers.
AT&T Sept. 25 sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission
protesting Google's blocking
of telephone calls from consumers who use its Google Voice service to call phone
numbers with inflated access charges in certain rural areas.
AT&T argued that by blocking these calls, Google reduces its access
expenses, giving it an advantage phone carriers are prevented from enjoying and
thus skewering the competition principles in U.S. network
laws. Google Voice is a Web-based phone management service the
search engine offers to let users funnel all of their phone calls via one new
number to work, home and mobile phones.
"Google Voice has claimed for itself a significant advantage over
providers offering competing services," wrote AT&T Senior Vice
President-Federal Regulatory Robert Quinn. "By openly flaunting the call
blocking prohibition that applies to its competitors, Google is acting in a
manner inconsistent with the spirit, if not the letter, of the FCC's fourth
principle contained in its Internet Policy Statement."
Google has long been a stickler for network neutrality rules, regularly
taking carriers such as Verizon and AT&T to task for threatening the
principles that free the Internet from restrictions on networks, services,
applications and devices. Network neutrality benefits Google because it enables
the company to saturate the market with Web services on any devices or
AT&T decided turnabout is fair play. The phone carrier argued that
Google Voice should be subject to the same call blocking prohibition as phone
providers because it includes a calling platform that offers unified
communications capabilities and provides the IP-in-the-middle connection for
calls between landline and mobile phones.
Richard Whitt, Washington telecom and media counsel for Google, noted that
Google Voice does restrict certain outbound calls to high-priced destinations,
such as adult chat services, conference calling centers and party lines.
However, he said there are a few key differences between Google Voice and
traditional phone services.
First, he said Google Voice is a free Internet application and is not
subject to common carrier laws. Moreover, because Google Voice does not enable
users to call directly from one phone to the next-users need an existing
landline or mobile phone to use it-the application is not intended to be a
replacement for traditional phone services. Finally, he said Google Voice is
currently invitation-only, serving a limited number of users.
"AT&T is trying to make this about Google's support for an open
Internet, but the comparison just doesn't fly," Whitt said in a blog post
. "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."
AT&T is asking the FCC, whose Chairman Julius Genachowski this week proposed
21 new network neutrality rules for fostering
more transparency among phone carriers and said he would consider extending
network neutrality rules to the mobile
Internet, to extend the same rules for carriers to Google Voice.
"The Commission cannot, through inaction or otherwise, give Google a
special privilege to play by its own rules while the rest of the industry,
including those who compete with Google, must instead adhere to Commission
regulations," Quinn wrote. "We urge the Commission to level the
playing field and order Google to play by the same rules as its
The arguments from AT&T and Google are compelling, but AT&T's letter
will certainly get the FCC to take a close look at Google Voice.
It wouldn't be the first time; the FCC July 31 inserted
itself into a dispute between Apple and Google over
Google Voice after Apple rejected
a version of Google Voice for its iPhone.
AT&T, of course, is the sole carrier for the smash-hit smartphone. The
argument about Google Voice, it seems, has come full circle. Read more on TechMeme here