Giant US phone operator AT&T filed a letter with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) at the end of last week, in which it called for Google, via its Google Voice unified communications service, to be bound by the same principles that apply to ISPs. The letter seems to have been prompted by the FCC's recently announced net neutrality initiative.
What specifically seems to be bothering AT&T is that it is legally obliged to allow its customers to call some rural phone numbers that charge the carrier high rates to make that connection. Google, apparently, is blocking calls to those numbers on Google Voice and is thus not incurring this high connection fee. AT&T reckons this gives it an unfair competitive advantage.
"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," said AT&T SVP Robert Quinn in a statement. "Ironically, Google is also flouting the so-called ‘fifth principle of non-discrimination' for which Google has so fervently advocated."
Richard Whitt, telco and media counsel at Google, has issued a public rebuttal that doesn't seem to fully address AT&T's concerns. He starts by pointing out that, being a web-based software application, Google voice is not subject to common carrier laws and that it's not intended to be a replacement for traditional phone services. Really?
He concludes that: "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."
Well, yes and no. The issue seems to be about a level playing field. AT&T is arguing that, if the law gives Google Voice an unfair competitive advantage then it needs to be changed. Google, the world's dominant web services company, is saying that any attempt to remove this advantage will undermine competition. Hmm.