Google Voice Blocking Fewer Lines to Quell FCC Concerns

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-10-29

Google Voice is now blocking calls to less than 100 numbers it believes are adult chat lines or free conference call services looking to exploit traffic-pumping schemes, Google told the Federal Communications Commission in a letter Oct. 28.

Google Voice is the search engine company's free phone management service, which lets users ring home, work and cell phones through one number.

In traffic-pumping ploys, local carriers charge high fees for connecting adult chat and free conference call numbers, which absorb a lot of traffic. AT&T and other carriers have blocked those calls in the past, but common carrier regulations now prevent phone companies from blocking those calls.

Google said it created a "tailored solution" for restricting calls to fewer than 100 numbers it has "good reason to believe are engaged in traffic pumping schemes." Richard Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel, wrote in a blog post:

"We went to work on this fix because earlier this year, we noticed an extremely high number of calls were being made to an extremely small number of destinations. In fact, the top 10 telephone prefixes-the area code plus the first three digits of a seven-digit number, e.g., 555-555-XXXX-generated more than 160 times the expected traffic volumes, and accounted for a whopping 26 percent of our monthly connection costs."

Whitt further said in his letter to the FCC that Google's own carriers would assess Google Voice up to 39 cents per minute for some of this interstate traffic, an exorbitant rate by any measure.

The question remains whether this will satisfy the FCC and quell the grousing from Google's new telecom nemesis AT&T, which in September accused the Google Voice service of blocking calls to certain rural areas and asked the FCC to look into whether Google was violating network neutrality rules.

The FCC earlier this month sent Google a list of questions about the service to gather more information. Google's letter is its response to the FCC, which is reviewing it.

Google has argued that because it is a free Web application that doesn't connect calls from one endpoint to the another that it should not be subject to the same common carrier regulations that mandate consumer calls must be connected. The tailored solution is a concession, but Google also wants carrier compensation reform. Whitt wrote:

"While we've developed a fix to address this problem, the bottom line is that we still believe the Commission needs to repair our nation's broken carrier compensation system. The current system simply does not serve consumers well and these types of schemes point up the pressing need for reform."

Google's skirmish with AT&T goes deeper than call-blocking squabbles. Google approves of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's new network neutrality plans, while AT&T and others are fearful the government is providing too much latitude for Google and other Internet companies.  

Meanwhile, Google's letter to the FCC is an exhausting explanation of how Google Voice works. Web application buffs will find interesting.


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