AT&T: Google Voice should be investigated

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In a letter to the FCC, AT&T said the Google Voice application is violating both federal call-blocking regulations and net neutrality principles by improperly blocking calls to certain rural areas. The carrier said the FCC should investigate the matter.

Specifically, Robert Quinn, AT&T's senior vice president for federal regulations, said that Google would be given an unfair advantage if its Google Voice service is not regulated, and that net neutrality principles should apply not just to phone companies, but to those that provide applications and services.

"To the extent 'net neutrality' is animated by a concern about ostensible Internet 'gatekeepers,' that concern must necessarily apply to application, service and content providers," Quinn wrote in the letter. Additionally, the company said that the FCC "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 (FCC) regulations."

The letter comes just days after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed adopting net neutrality regulations for wireless and wireline telecom companies. It also follows an FCC investigation into the Google Voice application for Apple's iPhone, of which AT&T is the exclusive carrier.

AT&T contends that Google Voice--an Internet call-forwarding application that supports a range of call management features--is a "cleverly packaged" service similar to traditional regulated phone services. AT&T said that by "openly flaunting the call blocking prohibition that applies to its competitors," Google is violating the FCC's fourth net neutrality principle, which says that "consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers and content providers."

In its terms of services for Google Voice, the company contends that it has the right to restrict calls or connections to any telephone number, and that this may include calls to "certain geographic locations, special services numbers, satellite telephony services and other call forwarding services."

An FCC spokeswoman did not immediately have a comment about the letter.

In a response posted hours after AT&T's letter came to light, Richard Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel, argued that the Google Voice service should not be regulated. "Google Voice's goal is to provide consumers with free or low-cost access to as many advanced communications features as possible. In order to do this, Google Voice does restrict certain outbound calls from our Web platform to these high-priced destinations. But despite AT&T's efforts to blur the distinctions between Google Voice and traditional phone service, there are many significant differences," Whitt wrote, noting that Google Voice is a free software service and not intended to replace traditional phone service.

"AT&T is trying to make this about Google's support for an open Internet, but the comparison just doesn't fly," Whitt wrote. "The FCC's open Internet principles apply only to broadband carriers--not Web-based software applications. Even though the FCC does not have jurisdiction over software applications, AT&T apparently wants to use the regulatory process to undermine Web-based competition and innovation."

For more:
- see AT&T's letter
- see this Google post
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this Reuters article
- see this Reuters article

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