The telecom giant, US mobile operator AT&T is urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate Google, claiming that the Google Voice app violates net neutrality principles. In a letter to the FCC, AT&T says Google is breaking rules on competition and non-discrimination by avoiding the high cost of routing calls to some rural networks, which often split revenues from inflated connection charges with high-volume services such as adult chat lines and conferencing call services.
Google has responded to AT&T’s claims, arguing that the net neutrality principles only apply to broadband carriers. The search giant argues that the FCC does not have jurisdiction over web applications, particularly free, invite-only services such as Google Voice, which still require users to have an existing fixed line or mobile phone number. In a post on Google’s public policy blog, Google’s main Washington-based telecoms lawyer, Richard Whitt, says that AT&T, “apparently wants to use the regulatory process to undermine Web-based competition and innovation”.
AT&T said the restrictions imposed by Google gives its service an unfair advantage over competitors by avoiding the high fees others have to pay.
“By blocking these calls, Google is able to reduce its access expenses,” AT&T said. “Other providers, including those with which Google Voice competes, are banned from call blocking.”
In a blog, Google acknowledged blocking calls, but said the FCC rules do not apply to its service. That’s because Google is only providing a free Internet application. In fact, a person needs to be a customer of a carrier in order to use Google Voice.
“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,” Richard Whitt, a telecom and media counsel for Google, said. “Importantly, users are still able to make outbound calls on any other phone device.”
AT&T and other long-distance phone companies tried to block calls to certain local carriers in rural areas, but were ordered to stop by the FCC in 2007. The commission ruled that preventing someone from making any legal call would degrade the reliability of the nation’s telecommunications network.