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AT&T accuses Google Voice of breaking federal law

September 25, 2009 |  6:39 pm

AT&T Inc. urged the Federal Communications Commission today to look at the Google Voice service, alleging that it blocks people from calling certain phone numbers, which might be a violation of federal telecommunications laws.

The phone giant based its allegation on press reports that said Google Voice restricts callers from placing calls to certain areas with carriers that charge high access fees. Under federal law, other providers don’t have that option.

“By blocking these calls, Google is able to reduce its access expenses,” the letter said.

AT&T also contends that Google Voice violates FCC's "net neutrality" guidelines, which say consumers are entitled to competition among network and service providers. AT&T said Google breaks the rules by “openly flaunting the call-blocking prohibition that applies to its competitors.”

On a company blog, Google’s telecom and media counsel Richard Whitt said that Google Voice should be allowed to block the calls because it is not a traditional phone service.

“Unlike traditional carriers, Google Voice is a free, Web-based software application, and so not subject to common carrier laws,” he said.

Google Voice is a service that centralizes people’s mobile and land-line numbers and their messaging to one number.

“Google Voice is not intended to be a replacement for traditional phone service -- in fact, you need an existing land or wireless line in order to use it,” Whitt said. “Importantly, users are still able to make outbound calls on any other phone device.“

This is the latest fight between the companies, which have had an ongoing feud over net neutrality issues. Last week, in another spat, Google wrote a letter to the FCC over its dismay that Apple Inc. had rejected Google Voice for its iPhone app store. Some industry observers have said that the service could potentially compete with AT&T, the iPhone’s exclusive U.S. carrier.

-- W.J. Hennigan

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