FCC scrutinizes Google Voice restrictions

Posted by Aharon Etengoff

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has launched an official inquiry into Google's policy of restricting outbound Voice calls to certain rural areas. The probe comes just days after a bipartisan group of legislators urged FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to investigate Google's "ill conceived" and selective call ban.

However, Google media counsel Richard Whitt defended the company's controversial policy by noting that local carriers often charged "exorbitant" termination rates for calls.

"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," Whitt wrote in an offcial blog post.

Google Voice

"This practice has been called 'access stimulation' or 'traffic pumping.' 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."

Whitt emphasized that Google Voice was designed to "enhance," rather than replace, existing phone lines.

"Some have pointed out that AT&T's complaints are hypocritical given that in the past they have asked the FCC for permission to block calls to these rural areas as well. Why? For exactly the same reasons we restrict them - the exorbitant termination rates. Of course, AT&T charges customers for their services and also receives hundreds of millions of dollars in universal service subsidies," said Whitt.

Google Voice FCC

Whit also criticized AT&T's alleged demand for web applications, including Skype and Google Voice, to be treated the "same way" as traditional phone services.

"Their approach is what a former FCC chairman has called 'regulatory capitalism,' the practice of using regulation to block or slow down innovation. And despite AT&T's lobbying efforts, this issue has nothing to do with network neutrality or rural America. This is about outdated carrier compensation rules that are fundamentally broken and in need of repair by the FCC," claimed Whit.

See Also

Congress demands FCC probe of Google Voice
Google: AT&T attempting to "undermine" Web-based competition
AT&T slams Google for 'systematically' blocking telephone calls
Wireless providers wary about net neutrality rules