Lawmakers Seek Google Voice Investigation

Several members of Congress have taken AT&T's side and asked the FCC to look into Google's refusal to connect certain calls through Google Voice.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

October 8, 2009

2 Min Read

Several Congressional representatives have asked the FCC to investigate Google because the company's Google Voice service blocks access to certain numbers served by rural phone companies.

"We are formally requesting an investigation by the FCC into the nature and function of Google Inc's voice service," the lawmakers said in an Oct. 7 letter, according to Reuters.

The signatories reportedly include Steve Buyer, R-Ind., Charlie Melancon, D-La., Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and John Barrow, D-Ga., who object to Google's position as unfair to their rural constituents.

An FCC spokesperson declined to comment.

Calls to the offices of Congressman Buyer and Congressman Melancon were not immediately returned.

The letter, sent to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, comes two weeks after AT&T sent a letter to the FCC complaining that Google, "one of the most noisome trumpeters of so-called 'net neutrality' regulation," doesn't support a level competitive playing.

Google can block calls to numbers that use rural exchanges to charge inflated prices, AT&T complained, but telecom carriers cannot because regulations do not allow it.

The rules in question require AT&T and other telephone companies to pay the telephone exchange connection fees set by local phone companies, some of which have taken advantage of that requirement by encouraging high-demand services like pornographic chat lines to locate in their area in exchange for a share of the inflated access fee.

Google's telecom and media counsel Richard Whitt has acknowledged that "the current carrier compensation system is badly flawed" and supports FCC efforts to fix it, but notes that Google is not subject to the laws regulating phone companies and that Google Voice is not intended to replace traditional phone service.

"AT&T is trying to make this about Google's support for an open Internet, but the comparison just doesn't fly," he said in a recent blog post.

A recent statement by the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a tech industry group that counts Google as a member, says much the same thing in less politic terms: "AT&T's pointing to a voice application and accusing it of blocking calls is a whining, desperate attempt to distract FCC enforcement of the standard, neutral Internet access that American consumers and businesses rely on."

An FCC vote on net neutrality rules is expected later this month.

InformationWeek Analytics has published a guide to the Open Government Directive and what it means for federal CIOs. Download the report here (registration required).

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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