Google gives 'Voice' to military personnel

Closed beta of Google Voice is about to get a whole lot more open

While Apple goes about defending its iPhone Apps Store from the perceived threat of Google Voice, Google is extending that fledgling service for free to the men and women who defend our country.

Score another public relations round for Google.

Sgt. Dale Sweetnam, who is working with Google's communications department as part of the Army's "Training with Industry" program, writes on the company's official blog:

For servicemen and women who are constantly on the move, having a single number and an easy way to retrieve messages from loved ones can be invaluable. To help our service members communicate with their loved ones and show our support to those serving our country, Google is launching a new program. Starting today, any active U.S. service member with a .mil email address can sign up for a Google Voice account at www.google.com/militaryinvite and start using the free service within a day.

When you deploy, your life is put on hold. While you live and work in a different world, everyone else moves on with life back home. Your family and friends keep moving, and this sometimes means it's just not possible for them to stay awake until 2 a.m. to receive a phone call. Calling Iraq or Afghanistan is seldom an option. ... Google Voice provides a solution to some of these problems.

Meanwhile, Apple continues to face scrutiny from the FCC and heat from all corners of the Internet over its decision to keep its Apps Store clear of Google Voice and Google Voice-enabled applications.

Writes attorney Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

When a dominant hardware platform vendor teams up with a dominant network services provider (AT&T), and then selectively blocks or hobbles software applications on the platform, consumers should smell an anticompetitive rat. After all, if Microsoft had a veto right over every app that ran under Windows, and used that power to selectively ban competitors who "duplicate" functionality offered by Microsoft's own apps, we'd expect competition regulators to be up in arms. The combination of Apple's veto power over the iPhone apps market and AT&T's handset exclusivity arrangement with Apple should also have consumers and regulators on their guard.

Apple needs to extricate itself from this mess ... in a hurry.

(Update: If you're not on the Google Voice beta list, aren't a member of the military, don't want to enlist, and, are willing to pay a few bucks a month, you might want to check out this Google Voice-like alternative from a startup called 3jam.)

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