By Kim Hart - 10/08/09 09:44 PM EDT
In a letter, the lawmakers—many of them from rural districts—pointed out that Google uses traditional 10-digit telephone numbers and connects calls between telephones through a local exchange carrier.
“It is our opinion a company should not be able to evade compliance with important principles of access and competition set forth by the FCC by simply self-declaring it is not subject to them without further investigation,” the letter said. “If Google is allowed to operate its telephone services outside of the rules by which all other common carriers operate, we worry that the market and support for universal service will be undermined. Rural consumers, whose calls would be only selectively connected, would undoubtedly be the most harmed by this practice.”
A number of the signers, according to data from
OpenSecrets.org, have received thousands of AT&T dollars to fund their
campaigns and political action committees. Buyer, for example, has received about $55,000 in contributions from the company since 2006. Shimkus received $54,000 and Melancon received about $30,000 since 2006.
Another wrinkle: AT&T apparently has its own tiff with rural carriers when it comes to call-connection fees. After AT&T sent the letter asking the FCC to curb Google’s blocking of some higher-priced lines, two small rural carriers sent a letter to the agency accusing AT&T of breaking its own rules.
Northern Valley Communications and Sancom Inc. wrote that they “agree with AT&T that call blocking is an impermissible form of self-help, but write separately to add that AT&T is engaging in very similar conduct to ‘reduce its access expenses’ by simply refusing to pay its bills” to small rural carriers.
“The only difference,” the letter continues, “between Google’s alleged call blocking and AT&T’s refusal to pay terminating access charges for conference and chat-line calls is that (local exchange carriers) are forced to incur the costs of terminating AT&T’s customers’ traffic.”
An AT&T spokesperson said this afternoon that Google should tell Congress whether its practices affect rural consumers.
“Once policymakers have all the data, they can determine how open Google really is, or if there is a double-standard,” the spokesperson said.