AT&T complains Google Voice blocks calls it can't (Update)

Review: Google Voice has cool tricks but downsides (AP)
In this screen shot provided by Google, a Google Voice inbox is shown. (AP Photo/Google)

(AP) -- AT&T Inc. said Friday that Google Inc.'s Internet phone program gets an unfair advantage from blocking calls to rural communities where local carriers charge high connection fees.

In a letter to federal regulators, AT&T said Google Voice keeps costs low by refusing to connect calls to places where some local carriers give phone numbers to adult chat lines and conference-calling services to draw long distance calls. They share hefty connection fees AT&T must pay.

Dallas, Texas-based AT&T, however, has been barred by the Federal Communications Commission from blocking such calls. The high fees force AT&T to raise prices for all of its customers, while Google can offer calls through the Google Voice software at very low rates.

Google Voice gives people an additional phone number that's not tied to any one phone line. People can program the service to direct incoming calls to their cell phone, home or work numbers. Users can get e-mail transcripts of voice mails through the service. It can also be used to send text messages and place calls - even international ones - at low rates paid to Google, not the carriers, though those calls do use cell phone plan minutes.

AT&T said that Google should not be exempt from the ban because Google Voice "appears to be nothing more than a creatively packaged assortment of services that are already quite familiar to the commission."

AT&T's letter also hammered on what it saw as a contradiction between call blocking and Google's support for "net neutrality," the idea that all types of data are treated equally by both wired and wireless Internet service providers.

In a blog post, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google said it isn't a traditional phone carrier, so it's not subject to the call-blocking ban. It also made the case that it's not a direct competitor to AT&T because users still must have a land line or a mobile phone to use the service.

Google also objected to the net neutrality argument because the Web search leader is not a service provider.

AT&T asked the FCC to stop rural carriers from boosting incoming calls and charging high fees, or in the absence of such a decision, to hold accountable to the same rules.

spokeswoman Jen Howard said the commission had received AT&T's letter and is reviewing it.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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User comments

Sep 26, 2009
AT&T, ex-monopoly, challenges Google, current monopoly. How about: Both companies are broken up? Isn't that the law?

Sep 26, 2009
Funny thing, google doesn't charge you extra for stopping to use their service. Also Google allows you to use numbers from different sources, wow.. we could use more "monopolies" like google.

Sep 26, 2009
Monopolies are illegal. They infringe trade, they limit consumers' choices. That's exactly what Google does.

Try looking up something that Google doesn't think is worthwhile. Pick an obscure scientific topic. Try to find information that isn't available for no cost -- even a summary of it.

I should complain? Since several of my articles are on the front page of Google results for various topics? Yeah, I should. Just why are mine better than 1,000s of others, just because they happen to be in Wikipedia? Did Google read them and make a critical evaluation? Hardly likely. I'm there because Wiki articles make money for them.

Sep 26, 2009
The reason you are charged a termination fee when you break a contract is because you got a discount of over $200 off retail value on your cell phone and the company hasn't made the money back because you only paid your bill for 3 months. Want a no-contract solution then buy phones at retail cost. They aren't cheap to make.

Sep 26, 2009
This report is not about monopolies. ATT is forced to support the local carriers conference lines which are associated with high costs. Google through VoIP just refuses connections to these conference lines avoiding higher costs.

The FCC dictates VoIP services should not be subject to the old rules for traditional phone networks (for now at least). ATT doesn't like that.

The FCC already dictated their stance that VoIP (among other network comm) is not a phone service; http://news.cnet....105.html

Should Google be forced to allow access to these conference lines? I don't know the underlying mechanics and financial agreements.

I wonder if ATT could reroute network flow through to an ISP and use a hosted service for conference lines. Local carriers could address the connections through proxies at their locations and then there wouldn't be long distance calls to manage.

Sep 26, 2009
plasticpower brought up a good point. IMHO it is best never to be obligated to any service provider, monopoly or otherwise. I always buy phones, cell phones, routers, cable decoders, etc. outright - a good serviceable cell phone costs much less than $200. I bought one I really like for $82 a few weeks ago. Check ebay :)

And I love the competition that Google talk, Skype etc. are giving the phone companies. Here in Canada there is no real competition. My research shows cell phone time here is about 4 X as expensive as in countries with real competition. (In fact I believe they are making so much money I bought shares in the provider I use...)

Sep 27, 2009
AT&T is crap. They treat their customers like burdens, and their services are so disorganized and inefficient. I hope Google destroys them.

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