Google yesterday submitted its response to the FCC’s inquiry about Google Voice, saying it will now restrict calls to fewer than 100 specific phone numbers.
In a blog post, Google Telecom and Media Counsel Richard Whitt said the blocked numbers are ones in which “we have good reason to believe are engaged in traffic pumping schemes.”
The FCC launched its inquiry into Google Voice after reports that Google Voice was restricting calling to certain rural communities. AT&T in particular took issue with the practice, tying it into the net neutrality debate.
In its inquiry, the FCC asked Google to respond to a series of questions, including the functionalities of Google Voice, how Google informs users about any restrictions to numbers and how Google identifies the phone numbers to which it restricts calls.
As part of its response, Google argues that Google Voice constitutes an “information service” under the federal Communications Act and is not associated with an underlying phone access service. As an information service, Google Voice is not a “telecommunications service” under the Act, in part because it is an invitation-only service and not offered to the public, according to Google. And as a free unified messaging and call management application, Google Voice does not compete with the telecom service offerings of carriers, the company told the FCC.
An immediate response from AT&T was not available. In the past, AT&T has suggested that the FCC interpret the Internet Policy Statement as embodying obligations binding on content, applications and service providers in addition to broadband Internet access service providers. That idea is now subject to public comment under the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for open Internet access.
AT&T and Google both seem to agree in part that the “traffic pumping” schemes that drive carriers to block calls in the first place need to end. Google in its blog post yesterday said the bottom line is “we still believe the Commission needs to repair our nation's broken carrier compensation system. The current system simply does not serve consumers well and these types of schemes point up the pressing need for reform.”
Google Voice is the March 2009 re-launch of the Grand Central service, which Google acquired in 2007.