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FCC Probes Google Voice Blockage

The agency sent letters Friday to AT&T, Apple, and Google over why the calling app was blocked from the App Store and the iPhone.

The Federal Communications Commission's probe into Apple's denial of the Google Voice application for iPhone may not result in direct changes, but the public prodding is a sign the agency wants a bigger role in shaping the framework for future mobile networks.

The government agency sent letters Friday to AT&T, Apple, and Google over why the calling app was blocked from the popular App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch. AT&T said it does not manage or approve apps for the virtual store, and Apple has not commented specifically on the Google Voice program, but its developer program bars apps that duplicate the iPhone's existing functionality, which is why there aren't other mobile browsers or media players in the App Store.

For Charles Golvin, analyst with Forrester Research, the move came as somewhat of a surprise because there have been multiple instances where Apple's approval process has been called arbitrary or unfair, but none of those warranted government intervention. Golvin said the public outcry for a Google Voice iPhone app may have been overstated by the tech press, as the invite-only service still has a relatively tiny number of users.

Additionally, Golvin said the agency didn't intercede when the Skype for iPhone was only allowed to work on Wi-Fi connections. Regardless, Golvin doesn't expect the move to change the way Apple runs its iPhone business.

"Apple has historically been successful at doing what they want to do, how they want to do it," Golvin said.

The letters are part of a trend where the FCC is trying to craft a more open market where consumers can access mobile networks easier, Golvin said. During the last major spectrum auction, the government agency require the C-Block of 700 Mhz spectrum be open to any device or application. Additionally, it also ruled that there would be unlicensed public use of TV white spaces, which could be potentially used for high-speed wireless access.

The open access requirement of the auction and the unlicensed usage of white spaces both received the strong backing of Google. Golvin said the search giant has become far savvier with its lobbying arm and political connections, but he said there are no indications Google spurred the FCC to act with the Google Voice app.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on smartphone security. Download the report here (registration required).

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