Google Stands Accused (by AT&T)

Broadband Updates, Wireless September 28th, 2009

, Publisher, BroadbandBreakfast.com

Google has been accused by AT&T of violating the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules for blocking Google Voice calls to some rural areas. In a letter to the FCC, AT&T urged the Commission to level the playing field and order Google to play by the same Internet Policy rules as other carriers.

The FCC in 2007 prohibited traditional carriers from blocking voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls because it said the practice might degrade the reliability of the telecommunications network, wrote AT&T’s senior vice president for federal regulatory issues Robert Quinn. Google systematically blocks consumer calls to certain geographical areas on its Google Voice service, claimed AT&T, so that it can reduce its local exchange access expenses.

AT&T’s charges against Google assert that call blocking violates the fourth principle of the FCC’s internet policy statement, which says consumers should be able to reap the benefits of competition among network, application, service and content providers. Google has said that Google Voice is not a traditional phone service. According to AT&T it effectively is, even if it is a computer application and not a phone service. Google Voice should therefore still be governed by the same principles that cover carriers, the letter said.

5:37 p.m. update below. -Editor.

Google responded to allegations they are preventing users from making calls by saying that Google’s goal is to provide consumers with free or low-cost access to as many advanced communications features as possible. “In order to do this, Google Voice does restrict certain outbound calls from our Web platform to these high-priced destinations,” the company’s response read.

Google went on to list differences between Google Voice and traditional telephone services, such as, unlike traditional carriers, Google Voice is a free, Web-based software application, and, as such, not subject to common carrier laws. Google Voice is not intended to be a replacement for traditional phone service, the company said. Although you generally need an existing land or wireless line in order to use it, other VoIP numbers can be routed to and from Google Voice numbers.

Users are still able to make outbound calls on any other phone device, and Google Voice is currently invitation-only, serving a limited number of users, the company said.

Google argued that under the common carrier laws, AT&T and other traditional phone companies are required to connect these calls. Google says that, “(t)he 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.”

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