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AT&T, Ticked At Google Over Voice App, Runs to FCC

AT&T Inc. (T) is turning to the FCC, an agency it generally tries to keep at arm’s length, for help.

The nation’s second-largest wireless carrier is mad at Google Inc. (GOOG) and wants the FCC to see whether the content provider is violating federal telecom law, as AT&T suspects.

AT&T says Google Voice won’t let users call areas where carriers charge high access fees, protecting Google from paying certain access costs. Other service providers can’t do that and AT&T complained late last week that Google is able to reduce its access expenses because of the loophole.

Better yet, though, AT&T is accusing Google of violating – gasp! – the FCC’s net neutrality principles (a rather priceless allegation from the company that abhors net neutrality codification).

Google defends itself by saying the point of Google Voice is to give users “free or low-cost access to as many advanced communications features as possible.” So, yes, the company said in a policy blog on Sept. 25, Google “does restrict certain outbound calls from our Web platforms to these high-priced destinations.”

Here’s an except from that blog:

“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.

AT&T is trying to make this about Google’s support for an open Internet, but the comparison just doesn’t fly.”

Google says the problem really comes down to the intercarrier compensation regime. Indeed, that system has grown from a well-intentioned regime of payments among providers to one easily rigged to benefit certain carriers. Everyone in the industry agrees it needs to be overhauled but they don’t agree how to do that. If AT&T wasn’t allowed to charge high fees, Google says, blocking calls to those areas wouldn’t be necessary.


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