FCC turns its attention to Google Voice

Remember when AT&T petitioned the FCC to investigate Google Voice? Well, now it is official, the FCC is investigating Google Voice...for the reasons laid out by AT&T.

In the complaint, 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."

Google's reply via blogpost:

The reason we restrict calls to certain local phone carriers' numbers is simple. Not only do they charge exorbitant termination rates for calls, but they also partner with adult sex chat lines and "free" conference calling centers to drive high volumes of traffic. This practice has been called "access stimulation" or "traffic pumping" (clearly by someone with a sense of humor). Google Voice is a free application and we want to keep it that way for all our users -- which we could not afford to do if we paid these ludicrously high charges.

Both sides seem to have pretty legitimate gripes: AT&T wants Google to have to pay the same fees it does for calls and Google stating it is a free service and those rural/sex numbers charge rates so high, it could no longer keep its service free.

Who is right?  Depends on how you look at it.  The overreaching problem in the situation is the high cost of termination charges levied by rural operators.  Hopefully this conflict will shed light on the inequity and perhaps something can be worked out.  

For instance, to offset the high cost of laying line to rural areas, perhaps the phone companies could set up wireless towers instead of running wires to homes with part of the US recovery money.  That way their last mile charges are brought into line with the rest of the country and there would be no overcharging areas that sex lines could hide behind.

At that point costs would be brought down and Google could service the whole country.  AT&T would also save lots of money in the long run.

As Google's Richard Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel stated, "This is about outdated carrier compensation rules that are fundamentally broken and in need of repair by the FCC."

This Administration's FCC has taken a much stronger role in investigating corporate practices in the telecommunications industry.  Google Voice was already part of a different investigation where the FCC questioned Google and Apple (and AT&T!) about their roles in Google Voice getting rejected from Apple's App Store.

AT&T, for what it is worth, just announced it would allow VoIP traffic over its signals, most likely in an attempt to avoid net neutrality investigations.

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