Apple decision sets stage for FCC probe

Apple has not approved one of Google’s software applications for the widely used iPhone because it “appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience,” the company told the Federal Communications Commission this week.
AT&T, the exclusive carrier of the iPhone, said it had nothing to with Apple’s decision not to make Google’s application available.

The company was responding to an inquiry by the agency that is part of a larger review of the wireless industry. Three weeks ago, the FCC sent letters to Google, AT&T and Apple after Google complained that Apple rejected its software from the App Store, from which iPhone users can download more than 65,000 applications and software programs.
The situation raises questions about wireless competition and how third-party applications can operate on networks and devices. The FCC has taken an interest in competition issues within the wireless industry and on Thursday launched a broad review on the subject.
The letters asked why Apple rejected the Google Voice application for the iPhone and removed other related applications from its App Store. The FCC also asked what role the iPhone’s exclusive carrier, AT&T, had in that decision. Google was asked to provide the FCC a description of the Google Voice application.
Google Voice is a relatively new, invitation-only application that allows users to access their cellphone, land-line or Internet phone services through a single phone number. The application has already proven to be quite popular among consumers, who have snatched up the more than two million phone numbers Google made available. The service also allows free text messages and cheap international calls.
But Apple said Google Voice “replaces the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail.”
Catherine Novelli, Apple’s vice president for worldwide government affairs, said Google Voice has not been rejected, but that Apple is “still pondering” questions raised by the application. For example, Google Voice causes a user’s entire contacts list to be transferred to Google’s servers, and “we have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways.”
The companies’ responses to the FCC’s inquiry were due just one day after the agency launched wide-ranging review of competition in the wireless industry. For example, the agency will look into whether changes need to be made to “truth-in-billing” rules so consumers know exactly what they are being charged for.
Three separate inquiries into the state of competition and innovation in the wireless industry will be addressed at the agency’s monthly meeting on Thursday.

Genachowski has said he is also interested in looking into other common industry practices, such as exclusive relationships between carriers and hand-set makers.
In its response to the FCC, AT&T said it had nothing to do with Apple’s decision to reject the Google Voice application for inclusion in the App Store.
“AT&T was not asked about the matter by Apple at any time, nor did we offer any view one way or the other,” said Jim Cicconi, AT&T senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs.
He added that AT&T customers can access Google Voice on any web-enabled device operating on its network, including the iPhone, through its web browser, without the need to go through the Apple App Store.
Google told the FCC that while consumers can access the Google Voice service via the mobile browser on the iPhone, the features are more limited than those found in the App Store version of the service.