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Google tells FCC it's still blocking calls, but fewer of them

Google told the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday that it's still blocking some high-cost phone calls, but its engineers have figured out a way to reduce the phone numbers affected to fewer than 100.

That may not be enough to satisfy the agency, which prohibits the denial of phone calls. Google has argued that they are refusing to connect calls that are part of "traffic pumping" schemes, where local carriers collect high fees for the connection of high-traffic adult-chat and free conference call numbers.

Google was responding to a request from the FCC earlier this month to explain the types services Google Voice supplies and why it is blocking some calls. The inquiry was prompted by a complaint from AT&T, which has itself criticized traffic pumping practices and have asked the agency to create policies that would halt them.

"Over the past few weeks, we've been looking at ways to do this on a more granular level. We told the FCC today that Google Voice now restricts calls to fewer than 100 specific phone numbers, all of which we have good reason to believe are engaged in traffic pumping schemes," telecom and media counsel Richard Whitt wrote in the company's public policy blog.

"While we've developed a fix to address this problem, the bottom line is that we still believe the Commission needs to repair our nation's broken carrier compensation system," he wrote. "The current system simply does not serve consumers well and these types of schemes point up the pressing need for reform."

On the surface, the issue touches on arcane telecom policy. But underlying it is a broader battle between AT&T and Google at the FCC over future fortunes on the Web.

The phone giant has been pushing for greater regulation over the Internet titan. AT&T has said a proposal on open-Internet rules should include companies like Google, saying services like Google Voice show that the applications layer of the Web can also act as a gatekeeper of Web services. Silicon Valley-based Google has rejected that argument, saying that Internet users depend on open access to the Web through the network operators and that applications on top of that layer of basic infrastructure isn't regulated by the FCC.

By Cecilia Kang  |  October 28, 2009; 6:20 PM ET
Categories:  Google  
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Comments

Google is, indeed, far more of a gatekeeper than AT&T. AT&T has exercised editorial control over its own content (which, of course, it's allowed to do; it's the publisher), but has never blocked anyone else's.

Google, on the other hand, has engaged in extensive blocking of content. In fact, the day the FCC published proposed "network neutrality" rules that excluded Google from oversight, it blocked an ad which I published, via Google's AdWords facility, in which I expressed views differing with Google's political agenda. Why that particular day? Because Google knew, at that point, that it was off the hook and that the administration would let it censor the Web at will. (By the way, the paper that was blocked is viewable at http://www.brettglass.com/principles.pdf -- and, as you can see, it's extremely pro-consumer.)

Government should regulate only in areas where a company has true market power -- in other words, when it is a monopoly as Google is. AT&T, Verizon, and other ISPs faces lots of competition in the realm of retail Internet service, so the FCC should not regulate such services.

Posted by: squirma | October 28, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Squirma, is refusing to publish an ad - a commerical activity - quite the same thing as «censor[ing] the Web at will» ? If, indeed, the latter is Google's design, they seem to be doing a rather poor job of it - I for one had no trouble whatever accessing and reading your .pdf publication. I suggest that *all* companies that either deliver Internet services (i e, ISPs) or provide content via these services should be subject to regulation - in the United States, via a vigilant FCC. To make ISPs a priviliged group exempt from regulation, as you propose, would certainly not be what I should call «pro-consumer» !...

Henri

Posted by: mhenriday | October 29, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Google does more than refuse to publish ads advocating political stances it disagrees with. It also -- via its "Google Grants" program -- gives up to $10,000 per month of free advertising to groups touting political agendas it DOES want to promote.

"mhenriday," you had no trouble reading my document only because I posted the URL here. If I hadn't, you never would have found it -- and if you'd done a Google search, you would have gotten links to "astroturf" groups which are promoting Google's corporate agenda.

The Internet has prospered for more than 26 years without regulation of ISPs, and there is no sign of it stopping. ISPs have never blocked legal content (unlike Google) and show no signs of doing so. Nor are they monopoly; there is aggressive competition among ISPs.

Google, on the other hand, is a dangerous, worldwide, unregulated monopoly. And it is Google that wants to be "privileged;" in fact, it has already had itself written out of proposed FCC regulations. If you're pro-consumer, you will want to regulate where there is monopoly power, not where there is plenty of competition.

Posted by: squirma | October 30, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

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