Google Voice Service Now Under FCC Scrutiny

Google finds itself under investigation by the Federal Communications Commission over its Google Voice service, which allegedly blocks calls from consumers to certain rural areas with inflated access charges. AT&T sent a letter to the FCC in September calling out Google on the situation, while Google has responded that it falls outside of traditional carrier regulations.

Google finds itself subjected to scrutiny by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after the government body was alerted to the search-engine giant's Google Voice service blocking telephone calls from consumers to certain rural areas with inflated access charges.Google Voice lets its users funnel their work and personal phone calls to a single number, and provides other services such as automated voice mail transcription and GOOG-411 integration. The Web-based phone management service is an updated version of GrandCentral, which Google acquired in July 2007.According to Reuters, some 20 U.S. House lawmakers have asked the FCC to investigate Google Voice's call-blocking to those rural areas. AT&T had also brought the issue to the government's attention."Recent reports indicate that Google's Google Voice service restricts calling from consumers to certain rural communities," Sharon Gillett, chief of the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau, wrote in an Oct. 9 letter to Richard Whitt, Washington telecom and media counsel for Google. "We are interested in gathering facts that can provide a more compete understanding of this situation."The letter asks that Google a series of questions about Google Voice's functioning by "close of business on Wednesday, October 28, 2009."Among the questions: "How does Google identify the telephone numbers to which it restricts calls? Does it restrict calls to individual telephone numbers, or to particular exchanges or NPA-NXXs? Why does Google Voice restrict calls to these numbers?"Google has already posted a response on its Public Policy blog, with Richard Whitt writing: "Today the FCC responded to AT&T's complaint by asking us for more information about Google Voice. Google Voice is a free web application, one intended to supplement and enhance existing phone lines, not replace them."Despite AT&T's lobbying efforts, this issue has nothing to do with network neutrality or rural America," Whitt continued. "This is about outdated carrier compensation rules that are fundamentally broken and in need of repair by the FCC."AT&T had brought the issue before the FCC last month.On Sept. 25, AT&T Senior Vice President-Federal Regulatory Robert Quinn sent a letter to the FCC that said, in part, "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."AT&T further argued that, by blocking more expensive calls in rural areas, Google gave itself an advantage over traditional phone carriers who would be required to service those calls. It asked the FCC to extend to Google Voice the same rules governing traditional carriers. Richard Whitt argued in response to AT&T's letter that Google was not a traditional phone company and therefore not subject to common carrier laws"The FCC's open Internet principles apply only to the behavior of broadband carriers-not the creators of Web-based software applications," Whitt wrote in a Sept. 25 posting on the Google Public Policy blog. "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-bsed competition and innovation."This marks the second clash this year between Google and the FCC. In July, the regulatory body decided to step into a dispute between Apple and Google after Apple rejected a version of Google Voice for its popular iPhone device.