FCC looking into Google Voice ‘call blocking’

“The Federal Communications Commission has sent Google Inc. an inquiry about the company’s Voice Internet-calling service, following calls for an investigation into whether it violates a prohibition on so-called call blocking,” John Letzing reports for MarketWatch.

“In a letter sent to the company Friday, Sharon Gillett, the FCC’s wireline competition bureau chief, notes that reports indicate Google is restricting some calls made through the Voice service to rural areas, thus reducing its operating expenses,” Letzing reports.

“Gillett says that such call blocking is prohibited, and asks Google to answer questions including how it chooses which calls to restrict, and whether its service should be classified as a ‘telecommunications service,'” Letzing reports. “‘We are interested in gathering facts that can provide a more complete understanding of this situation,’ Gillett writes in the letter, adding that Google has until Oct. 28 to respond.”

Letzing reports, “AT&T last month complained to the FCC that Voice is merely a “creatively packaged” traditional telecommunications service, and that Google’s call blocking through Voice violates the principle of network neutrality — a principle championed in the past by both Google and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.”

Full article here.

Fawn Johnson reports for Dow Jones Newswires, “AT&T and other carriers tried a similar tactic several years ago. They were rebuked by the FCC, which said common-carrier telephone companies can’t pick and choose the numbers they will patch through and those they will block.”

“Google says its phone management service isn’t subject to the same common carrier telephone rules because it is free and consumers can use it only if they have a traditional telephone line,” Johnson reports.

“The group of lawmakers, including Reps. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., Charlie Melancon, D-La., Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and John Barrow, D-Ga., said in their letter to the FCC that rural consumers would be most harmed if Google is allowed to ‘evade compliance with important principles of access and competition,'” Johnson reports.

Johnson reports, “The FCC had no official comment on the letter. The agency already is taking a look at Google Voice because it doesn’t appear in the application store for Apple Inc.’s popular iPhone.”

Full article here.

6 Comments

  1. If I understand this, the ability for us (consumers) to have competing VoIP services available on iPhone hinges on decisions such as this one. The overriding prince being “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”, if Google is to be allowed to have its GoogleVoice app on iPhone (and AT&T), then by the same token, they should also be required to do what other telcos have to do — make connections to ALL landlines, instead of picking and choosing whom to connect based on how much it costs them.

    Not exactly blah, blah.

  2. A critical piece of this story has to do with the higher fees charged in some rural areas for access to their phone lines – those are the fees Google is avoiding.

    The crux of the issue has to do with whether Google is wrong to avoid paying those fees, or if the fees being charged are ridiculously high to begin with just to get more money out of the telecos? It seems to me a balanced inquiry has to look at both sides of that equation.

    Not defending either side, just hoping that the FCC is weighing both sides carefully here.

  3. I thought so… this Ars Technica article on “traffic pumping” outlines another very crucial angle to this story: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/10/att-accused-of-regulatory-capitalism-as-fcc-probes-google-voice.ars

    “This issue has nothing to do with network neutrality or rural America,” even Google concedes. “This is about outdated carrier compensation rules that are fundamentally broken and in need of repair by the FCC.” The connection to net neutrality may be dubious, but by linking the traffic pumping problem to Google Voice, AT&T;has succeeded in getting the issue on the regulatory front burner.

  4. This is part and parcel of government regulation of prices, called tariffs. The regulations are always out of date. Another example of this was Judge Green’s decision breaking up the original AT&T;. The economic basis for this decision was that long distance was a cash cow, which was true at the time. With the impact of digital technology and competitors such as MCI, the bottom fell out of the long distance market, leaving AT&T;in a tight spot. I worked in the the telephony equipment business from 1982 to 200 and had a front row seat to this show. Price regulation is always political in nature and always based on out of date situations.

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