FCC Begins Inquiry Into Google Voice
The Federal Communications Commission said it is investigating whether Google has violated telecommunications laws with its call management and calling service that has been blocking the connection of some calls to rural areas, according to the agency's Wireline bureau.
In a letter sent to Google Friday afternoon, the FCC's Wireline bureau asks the Web search engine company to explain how its application, Google Voice, works and whether it is blocking calls. The inquiry follows complaints by AT&T and lawmakers, asking the FCC to take up a review of the service that they argue could be a traditional telephone service and should be regulated like one.
In its letter (pdf), the FCC asked Google to answer several questions about its service by Oct. 28. It asked how the service works, how Google sees its service fits under regulatory frameworks at the FCC, its invitation-only policy to get the service, and how Google chooses the numbers to which it restricts calls.
Google's telecom and media counsel Rick Whitt has said the service is not a traditional phone service -- or common carrier service. He wrote in a blog after AT&T sent its letter late last month that the service does deny some connections to rural areas because of the high costs of making those connections.
He elaborated on the company's reasons for denying calls in a blog today .
"The reason we restrict calls to certain local phone carriers' numbers is simple. Not only do they charge exorbitant termination rates for calls, but they also partner with adult sex chat lines and "free" conference calling centers to drive high volumes of traffic. This practice has been called "access stimulation" or "traffic pumping" (clearly by someone with a sense of humor). Google Voice is a free application and we want to keep it that way for all our users -- which we could not afford to do if we paid these ludicrously high charges," Whitt wrote in Google's public policy blog.
He added that it was hypocritical of AT&T to complain about Google's blocking of calls when the phone giant has asked permission from the FCC to also block calls.
"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," he said in the blog.
I wrote previously about how legal experts and analysts say questions about Google Voice point to the blurring lines betweeen traditional communications services and Internet services as more applications move to digital technologies.
October 9, 2009; 3:45 PM ET
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