If you thought the Google Voice drama couldn't get any more complex, you were wrong. Today AT&T, the nation's second largest wireless carrier, filed a claim with the FCC complaining that Google Voice doesn't connect calls to certain rural areas of the US.
AT&T noted that press reports have suggested that Google "is systematically blocking telephone calls from consumers that use Google Voice to call telephone numbers in certain rural areas."
Robert Quinn, AT&Ts senior vice president for federal regulations wrote the Federal Communications Commissions competition bureau that Google wasn't "play[ing] by the same rules as its competitors". AT&T contends that Google doesn't connect calls to rural carriers to save money. Rural carriers often charge up to 100 times more than normal carriers for their long distance services. They are allowed to do so because of the additional costs of connecting rural households.
Unfortunately, this loophole has been exploited by "charge-by-call" services because of the high rates that they can charge.
It is a big mess for AT&T and other providers that have to pay the charges that come from calls to and from these areas.
The issue boils down to an argument over whether or not Google Voice is a telecommunications service, and therefore subject to regulation. Google contends that it is only an online software tool, and therefore outside the regulatory framework.
This is really just AT&T trying to get rid of a VoIP carrier like Google Voice.
If anything, the FCC should do a few things to curb this issues. First, rural numbers shouldn't be able to be used by pay-per-call services. That is abusing the system.
Next, in rural areas, line owners should have access to VoIP services. Perhaps WiMAX and other technologies will help lower the cost of entry to the VoIP services. For instance, if you are one of these rural guys who can't get a Google Voice call because you live in the backwater, simply set up Skype or another VoIP company with area codes with cheaper services.
Also, why not charge the customer when rates to certain rural areas skyrocket? By doing so, Google Voice could keep its current model of not charging regular customers at all.
And AT&T? This letter is about as disingenuous as anything I've ever seen. As barbs flow back and forth from company to company, we remember that AT&T is a huge proponent of breaking net neutrality, and it keeps rates high even as service levels decrease.
I expect this particular case will be tied up in the government for a while. In the meantime, drop AT&T and use Skype instead.