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FCC Eyes Apple’s Blockage of Google Voice

WASHINGTON, August 6, 2009 – A top Federal Communications Commission official sent letters of inquiry on Friday to Apple, AT&T and Google over Apple’s move to block Google’s voice technology on the iPhone.




WASHINGTON, August 6, 2009 – A top Federal Communications Commission official sent letters of inquiry on Friday to Apple, AT&T and Google over Apple’s move to block Google’s voice technology on the iPhone.

James Schlichting, acting chief for the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, asked Apple Vice President Catherine Novelli why Apple had rejected Google’s Voice application and removed related third-party applications from its app store. He also asked Novelli to identify which third-party applications had been removed or rejected.

Schlichting also asked whether Apple had acted alone or in consultation with AT&T and whether or not there were any contractual or non-contractual conditions with AT&T affecting Apple’s decision.

In his letter to James Cicconi, senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs at AT&T, Schlichting asked similar questions and whether any devices operating on AT&T’s network allow use of the Google Voice application. He also inquired whether other applications have been rejected for the iPhone and whether consumers’ access to and usage of Google Voice is disabled on the iPhone but permitted on other handsets such as Research in Motion’s BlackBerry devices.

According to a report by Jason Kincaid in TechCrunch, John Gruber, a technical writer and technology pundit, “has confirmed with a trusted source that AT&T is to blame for the Google Voice ban.”

This allegation has met with some skepticism.

According to a report by Om Malik on Gigaom, this allegation that AT&T is behind Apple’s blocking of Google Voice is “flat-out wrong.”

“If it were true,” said Malik, “then Google Voice would be banned on BlackBerry devices that use AT&T as well….As of this morning, everything is working fine on my AT&T-connected Bold.

Malik also noted that AT&T’s voice network is needed to send and receive Google Voice calls.

Accord to a report by Marin Perez on Information Week, AT&T states that it does not manage or approve applications for the App Store.

“We have received the letter and will, of course, respond to it,” said AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris.

Schlichting also sent a letter to Richard Whitt, Washington telecom and media counsel member at Google, asking whether an explanation was given for Apple’s rejection, whether Apple has approved any Google applications for the Apple App Store, what services they provide, and whether Google has any other proposed applications pending with Apple.

"We will continue to work to bring our services to iPhone users, for example by taking advantage of advances in mobile browsers,” said Google Global Communications and Public Affairs spokesman Dan Martin.

“We will be supplying the information that the commission has requested," he said.

“Consumers everywhere should be pleased at the quick response of the Federal Communications Commission to the reports that Apple was blocking access to the Google Voice application, said Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn.

“This is exactly the type of aggressive, pro-consumer, pro-competitive action that we want to see from the FCC, and which has been long mission from the commission’s policy agenda,” she said.

Sohn said she looks forward to reading the official responses to the commission’s letters from Apple and AT&T.

The letters are part of a trend showing that the FCC is trying to craft a more open market where consumers can access mobile networks easier, said Charles Golvin, analyst with Forrester Research.

According to a report by AP technology writer Michael Liedtke on ABCNews, just days after the letters were sent, Google CEO Eric Schmidt resigned from the Apple board, “because of the companies' conflicting interests as competition between the one-time allies heats up.

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  1. Pingback: What Google Voice is, and some phone # hunting tips. | Robert N.

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    Brett Glass

    August 7, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    It does not seem to me that the FCC’s enabling legislation allows it to regulate computing platforms just because they happen to telecommunicate. But if it were determined that it did, it would be particularly scary because of where it could lead.

    Think about it. The manufacturers of computer gaming consoles (all of which now telecommunicate, as the iPhone does) have, to date, been able to control which software products were available for their platforms, and have used this control to reduce the initial cost of the console and make up the money via the revenue stream from the software. If the FCC could regulate which apps Apple allows onto the iPhone, it could also regulate which games (especially networked games) console makers allowed onto their platforms and could scuttle this business model, which consumers seem to like.

    Come to think of it, all computers nowadays come equipped to telecommunicate, too (via Ethernet and usually Wi-Fi). So, once the camel’s nose was in the tent, these platforms would be subject to regulation as well. Operating system manufacturers and computer manufacturers would have to manage their platforms as the FCC saw fit.

    Do we want to open this can of worms merely because a few iPhone users — who bought the product with full knowledge that it was a closed platform — are now experiencing buyer’s remorse? Should we let monopolist Google (which seems to be pulling the strings here) control the FCC like a puppet? Do we want the government regulating what software we can run, and where? What will come next: censorship of video games that the FCC finds indecent?

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