Last week, twenty members of Congress sided with AT&T and asked the Federal Communications Commission to take a good look at Google Voice, because the free telephony service doesn’t allow users to call certain rural numbers. Two days later, Sharon Gillett, chief of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau, sent Google telecom counsel a list of questions about their service.
Aside from the obvious anti-competition motive, AT&T is in a tizzy over Voice because GV really does prevent users from calling certain rural exchanges because the fees for phone companies for calls that end there are up to 100 times those of other areas. Google Telecom Counsel Richard Whitt posted on the Google Public Policy blog:
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.
Google’s underlying argument is that their service is add-on to existing phone services, not a replacement. They say that they shouldn’t be subject to the same regulations as the phone companies that charge for service and build the infrastructure.
AT&T claims that Google is acting as a telecom (not, as they claim, an application), and should be subject to the same rules and regulations—specifically the neutrality rules. While it’s no surprise to see AT&T and Google on opposite sides of a neutrality battle, the roles they’re cast in this time are at least a little humorous—Google as the one trying to restrict access and AT&T as the fair-minded, open-access alternative.
What do you think? Should Google Voice be subject to the same regulations as other telecos? Or are they splitting hairs when they claim they’re exempt?