FCC Fires Off Inquiries to Google, Apple, AT&T on Google Voice Ban

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-07-31 Print this article Print

Earlier today, I wrote a piece about the whole imbroglio between Google Voice and iPhone cohorts Apple and AT&T. Now the Federal Communications Commission if getting involved.

For those of you who haven't been following the issue, Apple and/or AT&T rejected the Google Voice phone management application and punted third-party Voice apps from the iPhone App Store, ostensibly because these apps duplicated features in Apple's iPhone. Features such as free SMS also don't sit well with carriers such as AT&T.

However, while Apple has appointed a spokesperson to call Google and third-party app developers of GV Mobile and VoiceCentral applications to tell them the apps were banned because they overlap with iPhone, the spokesperson has not provided sufficient explanations for the ban.

Instead, Apple and AT&T have refused comment as to their motives. This, of course, makes journalists mad. So journalists and bloggers write about this stuff. A lot.

And people comment a lot, some defending Apple, others alleging collusion on the part of Apple and AT&T.

The Dow Jones confirmed that the FCC has sent Apple, AT&T and Google letters about the Google Voice ban. The letters, dated July 31 and signed by James D. Schlichting, acting chief of the wireless telecommunications bureau of the FCC, may be read in full on TechCrunch here. Or get them from FCC Web site here.

Against the backdrop of the FCC's upcoming proceedings regarding wireless open access and handset exclusivity, Schlichting asks the pointed questions that press and blogger corps have been, including these to Apple:

  1. Why did Apple reject the Google Voice application for iPhone and remove related third-party applications from its App Store? In addition to Google Voice, which related third-party applications were removed or have been rejected? Please provide the specific name of each application and the contact information for the developer.
  2. Did Apple act alone, or in consultation with AT&T, in deciding to reject the Google Voice application and related applications? If the latter, please describe the communications between Apple and AT&T in connection with the decision to reject Google Voice. Are there any contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T that affected Apple's decision in this matter?
  3. Does AT&T have any role in the approval of iPhone applications generally (or in certain cases)? If so, under what circumstances, and what role does it play? What roles are specified in the contractual provisions between Apple and AT&T (or any non-contractual understandings) regarding the consideration of particular iPhone applications?
  4. Please explain any differences between the Google Voice iPhone application and any Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications that Apple has approved for the iPhone. Are any of the approved VoIP applications allowed to operate on AT&T's 3G network?
  5. What other applications have been rejected for use on the iPhone and for what reasons? Is there a list of prohibited applications or of categories of applications that is provided to potential vendors/developers? If so, is this posted on the iTunes Website or otherwise disclosed to consumers?
  6. What are the standards for considering and approving iPhone applications? What is the approval process for such applications (timing, reasons for rejection, appeal process, etc.)? What is the percentage of applications that are rejected? What are the major reasons for rejecting an application?

One could only believe Apple and AT&T don't presume to stonewall the government, but hey, stranger things have happened. It wouldn't be the first time high-tech vendors tried to slip away from responsibility.

This post goes out to all you Apple fanboys out there who cried that Apple and AT&T should be left alone to run their iPhones the way they want to. You thought we were crazy for posing the questions, and now the government is involved.

Apple and AT&T are in a true catch-22 now. More on TechMeme here.

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