You had to know this would happen.
Almost two weeks after AT&T accused Google of violating network neutrality principles by allowing its Google Voice phone management application to block calls to rural telephone exchanges, Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives picked up the rallying cry.
In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, House Energy Commerce Committee members Steve Buyer and Charlie Melancon said they find Google’s position with Google Voice “ill conceived and unfair to our rural constituents.”
AT&T is opposing Google Voice because it affords Google unfair advantages. Carriers can’t block calls, so AT&T argued that Google should not be able to just because it calls itself a Web app, AT&T argued. I agreed. AT&T is hardly unbiased; it’s the sole carrier for Apple’s iPhone, and Apple rejected Google Voice from running on the iPhone.
The FCC has said it is looking at Google Voice at AT&T’s behest; the politicians, who normally don’t have a clue how these apps work, are piling on.
I wrote Oct. 4 that Google Voice, which appears to be half in and half out of the phone communications pool, would continue to be a bugbear for Google because it does some of the same things phone carriers do, including enable text messaging and other features.
But it does not connect phone to phone directly, endpoint to endpoint or, as telco experts say, the last mile. So Google thinks it falls outside the boundary of current telco regulations. And maybe it does. For now.
Google is trying to use the relatively unregulated Wild West of Web applications to knock the staunch, well-heeled foundations of phone carriers AT&T and Verizon out from under them.
In the short term, Google needs these carriers to sell and serve its Android phones, which will carry Google ads. See Google’s huge deal with Verizon Wireless this week to create Android-based devices, taking on AT&T and Apple.
Longer term, Google wants to eventually be able to reconstruct and reimagine the institutionalized and shamelessly greedy phone system market via the Internet.
Methinks the Web apps market is in for some restrictions, notwithstanding FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s seemingly open plans for the mobile Internet.
AT&T started something with Google Voice. It will be interesting to watch if and how it snowballs.