Google hits back over call blocking on Voice app

Dylan Bushell-Embling
12 Oct 2009

Google has defended its policy of blocking calls to certain exchanges on its Google Voice app, in hopes of heading off a regulatory investigation into the issue.

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Friday wrote a letter to Google asking it to explain its policies, in response to complaints from AT&T and requests from a group of politicians.

AT&T had complained that Google's policy of blocking access to some rural exchanges because of the cost had violated the FCC's proposed net neutrality guidelines.

But Google responded publicly to the query, lashing back at AT&T and calling the US mobile operator's complaints “hypocritical.”

“The reason we restrict calls to certain local phone carriers' numbers is simple. [T]hey charge exorbitant termination rates for calls [and] partner with adult sex chat lines and 'free' conference calling centers to drive high volumes of traffic,” Google’s telecom and media counsel, Richard Whitt, said on the company blog.

Google would be unable to provide the service for free if it was forced to provide access to these exchanges.

AT&T has already asked the FCC's permission to block calls to these areas, Whitt added.

Whitt believes that FCC rulings that mobile carriers must provide equal access should not apply to Google Voice, because the application is only intended to supplement existing phone lines, not replace them.

“AT&T apparently now wants web applications - from Skype to Google Voice - to be treated the same way as traditional phone services. This issue has nothing to do with network neutrality, this is about outdated carrier compensation rules that are fundamentally broken and in need of repair by the FCC,” he said.

The debate began in July, when Apple blocked the Google Voice iPhone app from its online store. Apple told an FCC inquiry that the app would change the workings of the phone.

With the FCC also set to begin a probe into network neutrality, AT&T last week said it would allow voice apps on its wireless network.

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