Lawmakers ask FCC to investigate Google Voice

Members of Congress want the FCC to enforce Google Voice to follow regulations that forbid blocked calls.

UPDATED 10/12/09: The FCC has agreed to investigate Google Voice at the urging of AT&T and a group of lawmakers. On Friday the FCC sent a letter to Google asking it to explain the service and why it thinks the service is in compliance with regulations.

From 10/8/09: Four members of congress have jumped into the spat between Google, Apple and AT&T over Google Voice. They have formally requested that the FCC investigate "the nature and function" of Google Voice, the lawmakers wrote in an October 7 letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, reports Reuters.

The lawmakers, including House Energy Commerce Committee members Steve Buyer, an Indiana Republican and Charlie Melancon, a Louisiana Democrat, Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and John Barrow, D-Ga, are asking the FCC to look into Google ability to block calls to rural telephone exchanges. Google Voice allows users to direct calls from several numbers to a single number and vice versa, with all traffic managed through Google's data centers. Google admits that it blocks some outgoing calls to some phone numbers -- such as numbers that it has identified as adult chat lines and conference-call centers, which bill carriers high access fees to connect their calls. Blocking such calls means that Google won't get stuck paying those bills.

But AT&T and other carriers tried to do that same thing a few years ago, reports the Wall Street Journal, and were told by the FCC that they had no right to choose which calls they would carry and which they would block. Google's argument is to say, "So what?" It believes it shouldn't be held to the same regulations as other carriers because it offers a free service and users can only get Google Voice if they already have a telephone number.

The congressmen/woman say that the FCC needs to look into this and to hold Google to the same "fair access" standards for Google Voice as it does to other carriers.

The FCC is already begun poking around Google Voice, thanks to a very public spat between Apple, AT&T and Google over Google Voice iPhone applications being rejected from the Apple Store. Apple claimed responsibility for that decision, saying it won't approve apps that use Google Voice for the iPhone because they interfer with or duplicate features that already comes with iPhone. Many have speculated that AT&T prodded Apple into rejecting Google Voice, though Apple has its own reasons for being less than loving to Google, such as the fact that Google has entered into direct competition with Apple while Google's CEO sat on Apple's board.

Ironically, AT&T is involved in litigation over paying these adult chat lines charges from calls it has been forced by the FCC to carry. AT&T has been refusing to pay while litigation is underway.

Want more irony? Word hit the street this week that Dell is planning on creating an Android phone to run the AT&T network. While it might be possible that Dell would somehow restrict Google Voice from its Android phone, that seems a stretch, given that Android buyers would likely be interested in Google services on their smartphones.

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