Two weeks ago AT&T wrote a letter to the FCC about Google Voice, complaining that the service was preventing users from calling certain numbers, which is against FCC policy (AT&T has previously attempted to do the same thing but was prevented from doing so). Google promptly responded, explaining that it was not a traditional phone carrier and thus should not be held to the same rules as AT&T. Earlier this week AT&T’s complaints (along with some greasing from lobbyists, no doubt) prompted a number of members of Congress to decry Google’s actions. Today, the FCC has decided to follow up on the matter, issuing a letter to Google with the subject line “Google Voice Calling Restrictions”.
The letter begins with an explanation that “in light of pending Commission proceedings regarding concerns about so called “access stimulation”, the Commission’s prohibition on call blocking by carriers, as well as the Commission’s interest in ensuring that “broadband networks are widely deployed, open, affordable, and accessible to all consumers,” we are interested in gather facts that can provide a more complete understanding of this situation.”
The letter’s first question asks how Google Voice’s functions work from a technical standpoint, and how Google informs users about any numbers they may be restricted from calling. Question two asks what Google means when it says that Google Voice is currently “invite only”, which was one of the defenses Google offered in its Public Policy Blog to AT&T’s initial accusations, and how many people are on Google Voice. The third question will likely be a key one — it asks how Google Voice fits in with the classifications in the Communications Act of 1934, and if Google competes with any services classified as “telecommunications services”. Question four asks how Google actually identifies the numbers it restricts. The final question explores if Google contracts with any other services to function.
For those that haven’t been following the story so far: Google’s decision to block certain numbers stems from the way some rural local carriers have been exploiting current FCC rules. Some local carriers charge very high prices for AT&T, Google Voice, and other services to connect their calls. Few people would normally call these rural numbers, so these local carriers team up with conference calling centers and sex lines to further drive traffic. AT&T has previously tried to block these numbers but was barred from doing so, and is upset that Google Voice is getting away with it. AT&T has framed this as part of the Net Neutrality debate, though given their past stance on the issue it’s hard not to take their arguments with a grain of salt.