Thursday, September 16, 2010

Role in dispute between AT&T and Google

The Google Voice telecommunications service offers a service similar to long-distance telephone calling at no cost, using VoIP to connect users with their calling destinations. In order to avoid paying high connection fees to traffic-pumping carriers, Google Voice has blocked calls to some of these carriers.
AT&T has appealed to the FCC to intervene, charging that Google Voice ought to be required to connect these calls just as plain old telephone service (POTS) carriers are required to do so. Google has responded that its service, and those of other VoIP providers such as Skype, is distinct from those of a traditional POTS common carrier, and that it should not be obligated to complete these calls. Google further charges that AT&T is trying to distract the FCC from concerns regarding network neutrality, and accuses AT&T of conducting regulatory capitalism, in which businesses exploit laws and regulations to stifle competition and slow innovation. Finally, Google urges the FCC to revise "outdated carrier compensation rules" to end the practice of traffic pumping.
AT&T has written to the FCC, stating that Google's blocking of calls to traffic pumping numbers gives it a substantial cost advantage over traditional carriers. AT&T further argues that the issue of network neutrality is highly relevant, since Google is violating its own statement of the principle of non-discrimination, that "a provider 'cannot block fair access' to another provider." AT&T agrees with Google that the FCC should act to forbid traffic pumping schemes in the first place, calling them "patently unlawful", but asks that Google be required to accept the same common carrier requirements even if they are not shut down.
A bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives has joined in AT&T's complaint, urging the FCC to investigate Google Voice's practice of blocking calls to high-fee rural local exchange carriers. Some of these legislators have received significant campaign contributions from AT&T, and represent districts where rural carriers profit from traffic pumping. Sam Gustin of DailyFinance suggests that there may be issues of conflict of interest and pork barrel politics involved in these legislators' efforts.


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