Google Voice, currently invitation only, allows users to connect all of their phone numbers, wireless or landline, to one common number and manage the calls and messages through a Web site or by calling the number itself and accessing functions through a phone interface. According to AT&T, Google blocks calls to certain rural communities, something telecommunications companies cannot do; they are required to provide equal access despite the fact that some rural companies may charge high access fees to reach certain customers.
Robert Quinn, AT&T's senior vice president for federal regulatory affairs, said:
Google Voice has claimed for itself a significant advantage over providers offering competing services. 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. Ironically, Google is also flouting the so-called ‘fifth principle of non-discrimination’ for which Google has so fervently advocated.Google, on the other hand, responded quickly to AT&T's letter, and reminded all that it's not a traditional telecommunications company. Once again, as with many rules and regulations written for days when people were lucky to have radios, much less HDTVs, times they are a-changin' and the old rules need rewriting, or at least, another look.
In a blog post, Richard Whitt, Google's Washington Telecom and Media Counsel admitted that Google does block some of these calls. The reason is as I outlined above: some of these rural carriers charge egregious rates, and Google has chosen to block these. He added the follow differences between Google and traditional telecoms:
It's hard to fault the argument that the service is free. And to be honest, AT&T is no fan of Google Voice anyway, which is why some feel it had a hand in its App Store rejection. The only thing easily predictable about this is that it isn’t going to go away anytime soon.
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.
- 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.
* Which it may or may not have had anything to do with, and which may or may not actually have been rejected, depending on whom you ask