In response to questions by U.S. regulators, Google handed over information about the number of users for its Google Voice communication service and a list of the companies that route the calls sent via Google Voice. It also outlined plans that suggest it may expand the call-management service into foreign markets.
Google Voice, which provides people with a single phone number that can be used to reach them on their work, home, or cell phones, has 1.419 million users, according to the letter. Of those, 570,000 use it seven days a week, Google says. Google Voice began in 2005 as GrandCentral, a startup acquired by Google in 2007. Ring Central, a company founded in 1998 that provides similar call-management services to small businesses, says it has "tens of thousands" of customers.
The contrast underscores the rapidly increasing popularity of a service that, while available only on a limited basis, has put Google at odds with Apple and AT&T and subjected the Web search company to questioning by the Federal Communications Commission. The top communications regulator asked for information about the service after AT&T complained that Google Voice was unfairly blocking calls to certain numbers in rural areas. Google sent its response on Oct. 28.
Though the number of Google Voice customers was redacted in the version that was made public, BusinessWeek reviewed the information in the redacted sections. "We had intended to keep sensitive information regarding our partners and the number of Google Voice users confidential," Google said in a statement to BusinessWeek. "Unfortunately, the PDF submitted to the FCC was formatted improperly." The FCC says it has replaced the original letter posted to its Web site. "As soon as we discovered Google's error, we removed the document from the Web site and posted a new one," an FCC spokesman says.
In the public section, Google says it blocked certain connections to numbers in rural areas to reduce expenses. "In August 2009 Google Voice began the practice of restricting calls to certain high-cost destinations," Google says in the letter. Google argues that because it's not a traditional phone service provider, it shouldn't be subject to the regulations that require phone companies to connect calls to any number. Rural carriers are allowed to charge phone companies like AT&T high termination fees for calls destined for their areas.