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Summary:

AT&T today countered Google’s claims that it’s blocking Google Voice calls to rural areas because they’re directed to free conference call lines and sex hotlines engaged in the dubious practice of so-called traffic pumping by trotting out a convent of Benedictine Nuns who apparently can’t receive, […]

Is this nun praying for Google Voice?

Is this nun praying for Google Voice?

AT&T today countered Google’s claims that it’s blocking Google Voice calls to rural areas because they’re directed to free conference call lines and sex hotlines engaged in the dubious practice of so-called traffic pumping by trotting out a convent of Benedictine Nuns who apparently can’t receive, or make, Google Voice calls, either. That’s hardball. I see your sex lines and raise you rural ambulance services, a U.S. Representative’s office and NUNS!

The AT&T filing sets out to prove that Google is indeed more than the mere collection of Internet applications it says it is, but also that even if it were an “information service,” it would still be under the FCC’s jurisdiction and subject to any potential net neutrality rules that forbid discriminating against any type of traffic. From AT&T’s letter:

But Google’s call blocking begs an even more important question that the Commission must consider as it evaluates whether to adopt rules regarding Internet openness. If the Commission is going to be a “smart cop on the beat preserving a free and open Internet,” then shouldn’t its “beat” necessarily cover the entire Internet neighborhood, including Google? Indeed, if the Commission cannot stop Google from blocking disfavored telephone calls as Google contends, then how could the Commission ever stop Google from also blocking disfavored websites from appearing in the results of its search engine; or prohibit Google from blocking access to applications that compete with its own email, text messaging, cloud computing and other services; or otherwise prevent Google from abusing the gatekeeper control it wields over the Internet?

Sure, this is a bit of a slippery slope, and AT&T is kind of cutting off its nose to spite its face by getting all preachy about net neutrality, but if it can hurt Google by forcing the search giant to abide by the same regulations AT&T does, it’s worth it. And if it can use these over-the-top arguments to make the coming net neutrality regulations go away, or substantially weaken them, that’s a win.

No matter what, with its investigation into Google Voice, the FCC has opened a can of worms on traffic pumping and the practices of other VoIP providers. Yesterday Great Lakes Communication Corp. submitted a filing asking the agency to not stop with Google Voice, but to also investigate other VoIP providers such as Speakeasy and MagicJack, which also don’t connect certain calls in their region. Maybe those nuns will offer up some prayers to help the FCC figure out how to combine our old-school communications network with our broadband information network. After all, they’re soon to be the same thing.

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  1. Michael Yokitis Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    This aspect of the whole NN arguement confuses me . . . it seems to me that “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” That is, if rules are imposed on one set of competitors, they should apply to all. Sure T’s argument is a little over-the-top, but I believe it does have merit. The playing field should be level . . . either companies like Google should abide by the same rules that their competitors (like T) do for providing similar service functionality, regardless of the underlying technology, or companies like T should have the same flexibility as Google.

    Govt policy should focus on functionality and competitiveness, not what underlying technologies use to provide those services.

    1. +1 to Michael. Why should VoIP operate by different rules than traditional phone carriers? That said, I’m glad Google has the lobbying muscle to square off against AT&T and the like. They could care less about the consumer and I have little faith in our government’s ability to fend off the pleas from lobbyists. Only when two corporate titans stand on opposite sides of the issue is there any chance of balance.

  2. It’s really very simple and AT&T is trying to cloud the issue by preying on ignorance.

    There is the Internet.

    There is the phone system.

    The two are separate.

    Google does NOT block traffic that goes through the Internet.

    AT&T is NOT allowed to block traffic that goes through the phone system.

    The only thing that Google (and VOIP providers) are blocking are the transition FROM the Internet TO the phone system.

    Network Neutrality is for the Internet. The FCC has already been imposing similar “network neutrality” rules for the phone system, that AT&T is whining about.

    Now, what AT&T is trying to trick the FCC into doing is creating rules for the Internet to phone system transition. Why? It’s simple. AT&T owns most of the physical lines for the phone systems.

    This would be like Exxon trying to force “network neutrality” rules to also apply to gas stations, and that plug-in only vehicles should be banned because they don’t accept gasoline like all other vehicles.

    Hopefully the FCC has at least a few brains to see this land-grab of AT&T’s for what it is. Another thing that needs to be considered is that Google’s service isn’t true VOIP. I can’t use Google’s services without ALSO having regular phone service. Other VOIP providers REPLACE existing phone service. Google Voice only ENHANCES existing phone service.

    AT&T made a really bad move going after Google Voice FIRST… because it is only going to pressure Google into becoming a fully-fledged VOIP provider, cutting out the regular phone service entirely. They’ll just need to say “charges will apply when calling a standard phone… but get this free Google phone, plug it into your Internet connection, and calls will be FREE… you can thank AT&T for this confusion.”

    1. “Google Voice only ENHANCES existing phone service.” Agreed, but one person’s enhancement is another person’s control. And there’s the rub AT&T is angling from. Not that I’m defending AT&T…

  3. AT&T vs. Google: Round 4 — Send in the Nuns | RPad.TV — Raymond Padilla & friends talk games and geek culture Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    [...] war between AT&T and Google regarding Google Voice is getting pretty funny. GigaOm has revealed AT&T’s latest (lame) tactic: AT&T today countered Google’s claims that [...]

  4. I agree with above comment. At&t is just trying to confuse the FCC and reframe the whole NN debate in their favor. This has nothing to do with Net Neutrality. This is a power grab. Hopefully the FCC isn´t that stupid.

    1. Actually, you are the one that is being stupid. Of course this is about net neutrality. Net neutrality is about protecting an “open Internet.” AT&T’s point is that Google has more power than anyone to compromise the openness of the Internet. If Google can block Google Voice calls with impunity, what is to stop them from blocking certain websites, or from manipulating search results to put exclude certain websites from its search results, or put them at the bottom. If you had read AT&T’s letter, you would have seen numerous documented examples of Google having done just that.

      Google has claimed that net neutrality rules should not apply to its own conduct, despite the fact that it has more than 70% of the Internet search market. AT&T shows that Google services are, in fact, very clearly subject to FCC jurisdiction, and that, given Google’s pattern of behavior, the FCC cannot possibly exempt Google from the same net neutrality rules that apply to other providers of Internet-based services.

      AT&T’s letter is no power grab. It is a very clever strategy to point out precisely why Google cannot be exempt from net neutrality requirements. Get it?

      1. I think you need to read about and understand what net neutrality is, otherwise you risk sounding really really really dumb on the Internet.

        The telephone system is NOT the Internet. Net Neutrality would only apply to Google when they provided Internet access. (They do in Mountain View and some other places as a test.) It’s about the last mile. If Google is my Internet Service Provider and Google starts blocking INTERNET traffic to certain locations or for certain kinds of data, that would be Google breaking the rules of Network Neutrality.

        Google is NOT blocking information from one computer to another on the Internet. I can chat to whomever I want using Google Talk, etc…

        What Google IS blocking is the transfer of Internet data TO the PHONE SERVICE to certain phone systems. They are not providing phone service (I can’t cancel AT&T and sign up for Google Voice instead… it just doesn’t work that way) and they aren’t providing Internet Service (I can’t cancel my current Internet Service and sign up for Google’s instead)… they are merely allowing me to call a special phone number… then enter another telephone number… then have Google’s systems contact this other phone number I have entered, then connect my call for free. There was a service which provided a similar service (it was called Freeway) and it, too, blocked calls to certain numbers and it was allowed to do so.

        Again… in order to use Google’s service… I have to already have phone service (because Google Voice is not a phone company) and to use the website I have to already have Internet access (because Google is not playing the ISP in this case). The FCC laws in question apply to phone companies (which Google is not) and the network neutrality laws apply to Internet service providers (which, in this case, Google is not).

        There are hundreds of services (voicemail services, fax services, VOIP services) which do the same thing Google is doing (though Google Voice is a bit more innovative.) This isn’t really about AT&T attacking Google. This is about AT&T attacking hundreds of companies, many of which have been operating for years. Why now? Why not then? Simply because Google is a big target… take down the big target, and the rest crumble.

        This IS a land-grab by AT&T. It’s a Hail Mary Pass.

        You say that Google has 70% of the search market? Absolutely. Do you know how quickly this 70% can change to 0%? A Google user only needs to go to yahoo.com or bing.com instead of going to google.com. It’s that instant. I can’t change phone companies that easily… I can’t change cable companies that easily… I can change search providers with each and every search. I can perform 200 searches throughout the course of a day and can alternate my searches among all competition (ask.com, bing.com, yahoo.com, google.com, etc…)

        I can’t, however, make 200 phone calls throughout the day and use a different phone provider for each call. I can’t change my Internet Service Provider for each of my 200 different searches. Phone service and ISP are utilities that I cannot easily change. My search provider is an end-point… I can change search providers on a whim.

        So, whenever anyone claims that Google is “too powerful” because so many (70%) of the world chooses to go to Google.com for searches would be like saying NBC is “too powerful” because XX% of television viewers tune in to NBC each night. There has never been such an argument made, and yet Microsoft and AT&T try to convince the world of Google having some sort of monopoly of the hearts and minds of the people when, ironically, Microsoft and AT&T have true monopolies in the operating systems and the phone lines of the world.

        Don’t let big money fool you. Read. Study. Understand. THEN chime in. Don’t just spew the same crap that’s fed to you by those who only stand to lose money because people don’t choose them as much as they have been choosing Google.

  5. Government bureaucracy created this mess in the first place. No one should have mandated that AT&T and its ilk provide rural coverage. Let the free market reign.

    If people can’t live in rural areas without landline coverage, let them move to a more populous area. A phone is not essential for life. In fact, I believe that for some time before phones were invented people got along quite well without them.

    Get rid of all the regulations and see what happens. It is bound to be exciting!

    1. So you are OK with me setting up a 1,000,000 watt, multi ban transmitter next to your house?

      I want to, but currently spectrum usage is heavily regulated by the Government bureaucracy.

    2. I think I’ll just buy the land up the hill from Oscar and just pump my sewage down it…..YAY deregulation!

  6. I don’t know why somebody hasn’t made the connection yet: the nuns are clearly running the sex lines.

  7. I believe I’ve heard all this before…when Emperor Palpatine was trying to soft sell Anakin about the Dark side.

  8. I don’t understand why you’d think that this would make Net Neutrality regulations go away or weaken them. Would you please explain?

    I also don’t understand why it would be worth it AT&T if Google is forced to provide phone connectivity to all. For Google, it would be a relatively small pain-in-the-A compared to their entire business. But if similar Net Neutrality rules were applied to be applied to all of AT&T’s services – voice and data, landline and mobile, it would affect AT&T MUCH MORE, don’t you think?

    I don’t understand what AT&T is angling for here…

    1. Libran, it’s a can’t-lose play for AT&T. If the FCC decides net neutrality principles don’t apply, AT&T can use that decision to bolster its contention that wireless networking is similar in form and also shouldn’t be held to NN rules. Such reasoning may not make sense in the real world, but when combined with lots of campaign contributions and general lobbying might it’s a stronger argument than you might think.

      If the FCC does force Google to connect to the blocked numbers or some similar finding, it’s also a win for AT&T since the linchpin of their anti-NN strategy is to paint Google as the big bad evil. “You can’t make us abide by net neutrality rules and let Google do whatever it wants,” etc. Look for more emphasis on the theme of “Google is the gatekeeper,” while AT&T is just a humble provider of services.

      We predicted such entertainment would occur this year, and after a bit of a wait, the theater is open again. It’d be fun to watch, if it wasn’t the future of our national broadband infrastructure twisting in the middle.

  9. Accessoires iPod Thursday, October 15, 2009

    I think At&t is trying to confuse the FCC and reframe the whole NN debate in their favor. It has nothing to do. It may be a power grab. Well thanks for this nice article here.

  10. Between the Lines mobile edition Thursday, October 15, 2009

    [...] to make – the one about Google Voice or the one about net neutrality. And it doesn't help that it stooped a little too low by referencing a convent of Benedictine nuns in a list of those who were handicapped by having [...]

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