AT & T, Google clash – again – over Google Voice

Mon, 09/28/2009 - 8:10am
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

AT&T and Google are at it again. On Friday, AT&T filed a letter with the Federal Communications Commission that alleges Google Voice is blocking outbound calls to rural areas with inflated access charges.

Incumbent carriers like AT&T are banned from blocking such calls, putting Google Voice at an advantage.

According to Google, non-discrimination ensures that a provider “cannot block fair access” to another provider. But that is exactly what Google is doing when it blocks calls that Google Voice customers make to telephone numbers associated with certain local exchange carriers, said Robert Quinn, AT&T’s senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs in a letter to the FCC.

“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.”

Google agreed that the “current carrier compensation system is badly flawed,” but argues that Google Voice is not subject to common carrier laws because it is a nontraditional, free, Web-based services application.

Google admitted that Google Voice does restrict certain outbound calls to high-priced destinations, but said it must do so to keep costs down. The invitation-only app is currently available for free and cannot entirely replace landline or wireless service.

Though AT&T stopped just short of calling Google a hypocrite, the carrier had some harsh words for what it sees as a contradiction between Google’s practice of blocking calls and its support for net neutrality.

“Google casually dismisses the Bureau’s Order, claiming that Google Voice ‘isn’t a traditional phone service and shouldn’t be regulated like other common carriers,’” Quinn said. “But in reality, Google Voice appears to be nothing more than a creatively packaged assortment of services that are already quite familiar to the Commission.”

From that, Quinn argues that Internet regulation that focuses “myopically” on network providers but not application, service and content providers is fallacious.

“Accordingly, the Commission 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 Commission regulations,” he said.

Google fired back with some criticism of its own, saying that AT&T’s attack on Google's support for an open Internet was little more than a red herring.

In a blog post on the subject, Google’s Washington telecom and media counsel Richard Whitt said AT&T’s comparison between call blocking and net neutrality “just doesn’t fly.”

“The FCC's open Internet principles apply only to the behavior of broadband carriers, not the creators of Web-based software applications,” Whitt said. “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-based competition and innovation.”

AT&T and Google have been at odds lately because of the Google Voice app, which duplicates the core dialer functionality of handsets, including the iPhone, for free. This enables free and low-cost international calls, which could ultimately cut into AT&T’s bottom line. AT&T has denied any involvement in Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice app for the iPhone.

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•  AT&T, Google clash - again - over Google Voice
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