AT&T claims Google Voice violates federal regulations, net neutrality

AT&T sent a letter to the FCC charging Google's Google Voice application is violating both federal call-blocking regulations and net neutrality principles by improperly blocking calls to certain rural areas. AT&T is urging the FCC to investigate.  

Robert Quinn, AT&T's senior vice president for federal regulations, said 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 why Apple rejected the Google Voice application for the iPhone, of which AT&T is the exclusive carrier. Interestingly, AT&T has claimed it had nothing to do with Apple's rejection.

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."

Richard Whitt, Google's telecom and media counsel in Washington, argued that the Google Voice service should not be regulated, noting that Google Voice is a free software service and not intended to replace traditional phone service. "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.

"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
- read this Google post
- take a look at this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- read this Bloomberg article
- see this Reuters article
- take a look at this Reuters article

Related articles:
Google: Apple rejected Google Voice app
Apple to FCC: We're still evaluating Google Voice app
Apple faces FCC inquiry after yanking Google Voice apps