FCC To Probe Google Voice

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it is investigating whether Google has violated telecommunications laws with its Internet phone service that has been refusing to connect some calls to rural areas.

In a letter sent to Google on Friday afternoon, the agency asks the Web search giant to explain how its application, Google Voice, works and why it is blocking calls. The inquiry follows complaints by AT&T and a group of bipartisan lawmakers, asking the FCC to take up a review of the service that blurs the line between traditional telephone and Web services.

Critics say that if the agency determines the service is a traditional phone service, known as a common carrier program, it should be regulated like one. Call blocking is prohibited by the FCC.

Google's telecom and media counsel, Rick Whitt, argued that the service is not a traditional phone service because it is free and is an application for the Internet. He said the service denies some calls to rural areas because of the high costs of making those connections.

In its letter, the FCC asked Google to answer several questions about its service by Oct. 28.

It asked how the service works and how Google sees the service fits under the FCC's regulatory schemes. It also asked the company to explain its invitation-only policy for the trial service and how Google decides what calls to block.

-- Cecilia Kang

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