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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.

By Cecilia Kang  |  October 9, 2009; 3:45 PM ET
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It seems Google has become the new Microsoft.

As soon as a company grows through being creative, imaginative, investing and risking their investment in new ideas, progressive and successful, they become the target of every regulatory body (especially those in Europe; but those in the US too).

It is as if someone, somewhere just cannot bear the thought someone else is successful. Forget the risks they took, the failed projects, the workforce they employ, and the superlative products that sometimes come along, someone just has to sue them, or see how far they can flex their little muscles.

We live in changing times. What worked for decades (eg copyright laws, communications laws, computer programs, social aspect, etc), does not necessarily snugly fit into 'the boxes' any more, and they get hounded, usually by those who have achieved far less. Think Microsoft. Now, it seems, think Google.

No, they may not be perfect, but they have become the target of the jealous under-achievers who cannot claim nearly the same level of innovation or forward thought.

Posted by: brett2010 | October 9, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Your post doesn't mention that AT&T is a phone company that takes money every month from customers, for the purpose of completing calls. Clearly, due to AT&T's agreement with its customers, it has an obligation to complete calls. That AT&T would make such a disingenuous charge against Google is understandable given the way they treat customers.

On the other hand, as a reporter it seems highly appropriate that you do a bit more than passing along headlines.

Google is not a phone company nor does it charge for its services. Critical thinking aside, these are huge differences.

Posted by: P3X2Y | October 9, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Google has, indeed, become the new Microsoft. (No, it doesn't charge users for its services; it charges advertisers. But many large companies do this -- including over-the-air TV networks, free weekly entertainment newspapers, etc.) What's more, it has become just as evil -- buying influence in Congress and with the Obama Administration, dispensing large numbers of dollars in DC for lobbying purposes, and even taking control of "consumer groups" in DC for the purpose of astroturf lobbying. (The New America Foundation, for example, has received millions of Googlebucks from Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who recently took over the chairmanship of the organization.)

Now, it's seeking to reshape the rules of telecommunications to its liking. Hence its lobbying for "network neutrality" regulation -- from all of which it wants to be exempted. It is also lobbying for the relaxation of copyright laws (via groups such as the "Future of Music Coalition") so that it can make money by copying others' work.

Google has also become the largest invader of privacy on the Internet, via its acquisition of DoubleClick and its distribution of invasive "tracking cookies."

Given all of its increasingly nefarious practices, it's no wonder its billionaire executives believe that they have to have clout inside the Beltway.

--Brett Glass

Posted by: squirma | October 9, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Brett2010 - Right On! Google is challenging the ignorance and entrenchement of the FCC, which is why they are always reacting, and not prepared to recognize this new market; mostly because it challenges their modus operandi and might mean a leaner-meaner operation. Things like this are coming hard and fast, and I think they will sweep through our government glue like Xylene and wash away all of this red-tape, over-expensed goverment funding, and retro-thinking. To heck with your buddy in the Rural Communciations industry, G-Man...he needs to move on.

Posted by: Thebish | October 9, 2009 11:23 PM | Report abuse

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