Google Voice vs. AT&T - "Apples and Bowling Balls?"
But since Google is not a network operator, it is not subject to the same regulation that a company like AT&T is. Robert Quinn, AT&T's senior vice president for federal regulations used today's letter to the FCC to make the case that Google Voice should be.
"Google Voice appears to be nothing more than a creatively packaged assortment of services that are already quite familiar to the Commission...as such, [it] would appear to be subject to the same call blocking prohibition applicable to providers of other telecommunications services," Quinn said.
While the carrier claimed it had no part in the rejection of the Google Voice iPhone application, this letter makes it plain that AT&T strongly opposes the service.
"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," Quinn wrote. "Ironically, Google is also flouting the so-called 'fifth principle of non-discrimination' for which Google has so fervently advocated."
Even though AT&T spoke out against the principles of "wireless net neutrality" just days ago, this letter appears to be an attempt to turn that position around and use those principles to its advantage.
Google's Washington Telecom spokesperson issued a public response saying, "AT&T is trying to make this about Google's support for an open Internet, but the comparison 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. 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."
"Google Voice does restrict certain outbound calls from our Web platform...But despite AT&T's efforts to blur the distinctions between Google Voice and traditional phone service, there are many significant differences: Unlike traditional carriers, Google Voice is a free, Web-based software application, and so not subject to common carrier laws. Google Voice is not intended to be a replacement for traditional phone service -- in fact, you need an existing land or wireless line in order to use it. Importantly, users are still able to make outbound calls on any other phone device.. Google Voice is currently invitation-only, serving a limited number of users."
Google Voice has become one of the most controversial services in recent history, all thanks to the benefits it will bring to consumers and headaches it will bring to the mega-giants that take consumers and their money for granite. Let's hope the free market responds accordingly.
Google Voice is a beta project which allows several phone lines to be united under a single new number, accessible from any phone. Earlier this year, Google submitted to Apple an app that would make the service usable on the iPhone. The fiasco over Apple's rejection of the Google Voice application from the App Store came to a head when the FCC began a formal inquiry into whether the relationship between AT&T and Apple is fair and encouraging to innovations in communication.
The FCC sent letters of inquiry to AT&T, Apple, and Google last July 31. Responding to the inquiry, AT&T stated its position that it had nothing to do with the rejection. Apple said it had "not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it," and confirmed that AT&T was not involved in the iTunes App Store approval process.
Apple went on to suggest that Google could potentially compromise users' private data, "In addition, the iPhone user's entire Contacts database is transferred to Google's servers, and we have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways. These factors present several new issues and questions to us that we are still pondering at this time."
Google's response to the FCC last month appeared to be the least straightforward of all those involved in the inquiry, and large sections of the text were redacted.
"When we submitted our letter on August 21, we asked the FCC to redact certain portions that involved sensitive commercial conversations between two companies -- namely, a description of e-mails, telephone conversations, and in-person meetings between executives at Google and Apple," Richard Whitt of the Washington Telecom and Media Counsel posted in Google's public policy blog today.
But certain individuals filed Freedom of Information Act requests to make the FCC release the information, and the full seven-page letter is now available for public consumption.
Within the letter, Google says nothing of continuing investigation, but rather that the app was rejected outright.
"...The Google Voice application was rejected because Apple believed the application duplicated the core dialer functionality of the iPhone. The Apple representatives indicated that the company did not want applications that could potentially replace such functionality."
To prove this, Google listed with whom it had spoken (Apple SVP Phil Schiller, no less) and the various meetings Schiller had with Google's Alan Eustace, Vice President of Engineering and Research, over the rejection of Google Voice and Google Latitude, an application which was later converted into a Web app.