FCC inquires about Google Voice

“In light of the pending Commission proceedings regarding concerns about so called ‘access stimulation,’ the Commission’s prohibition on call blocking by carriers, as well as the Commission’s interest in ensuring that ‘broadband networks are widely deployed, open, affordable, and accessible to all consumers,’ we are interested in gathering facts that can provide a more complete understanding of this situation,” wrote bureau chief Sharon Gillett.

In order to use Google’s service, consumers must already have other phone numbers. Google Voice is currently an invite-only service that assigns consumers a free number. By calling that number, calls would be routed to consumers’ other extensions, such as a cellphone or work phone.

Yesterday, 20 lawmakers sent a letter to the FCC also asking for an inquiry into Google’s service.

A few of the questions the FCC is asking of Google:

  • How does Google identify the telephone numbers to which it restricts calls?
  • Does Google contract with third parties to obtain inputs for its Google Voice service, such     as  access to telephone numbers, transmission of telephone calls, and interconnection with local telephone networks?
  • How does Google inform Google Voice users about any restrictions in the numbers to which calls can be placed using Google Voice?
  • How does Google currently pay for the service?
  • Are there any plays to offer Google Voice on other than an invitation-only basis?

Google’s Whitt said Google Voice is a free Web application that is intended to supplement and enhance existing phone lines, not replace them.

Google restricts calls to certain numbers because they charge “exorbitant” termination rates for calls. Google couldn’t afford to keep the application free for consumers if they paid those rates, Whitt said.

And he said that, “despite AT&T’s lobbying efforts, this issue has nothing to do with network neutrality or rural America. This is about outdated carrier compensation rules that are fundamentally broken and in need of repair by the FCC.”

AT&T said it must also pay the higher rates for certain numbers, whether they want to or not. If AT&T is not allow to selectively connect calls, then Google should not be able to have that luxury either, the company said.

This issue is different than the open-Internet rules the FCC is expected to take up at its Oct. 22 meeting.  The FCC is also looking into the access rates smaller phone companies must pay to connect to the major phone networks.