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FCC Opens Inquiry Regarding Google Voice App Rejection

According to the Wall Street Journal, the FCC is opening an inquiry into the Google Voice app rejection debacle.

In a statement Friday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the FCC “has a mission to foster a competitive wireless marketplace, protect and empower consumers, and promote innovation and investment.” The inquiry letters “reflect the Commission’s proactive approach to getting the facts and data necessary to make the best policy decisions.”

Letters have been sent to Apple (s aapl), Google (s goog), and AT&T (s att) looking for more information. TechCrunch has transcripts of the letters, which break the inquiry down roughly like this:

  • Apple has been asked why they refused the Google Voice app, what role AT&T played in the refusal, and why other apps that integrate into Google Voice were pulled after their approval, and what other apps were refused for the iPhone?
  • Google has been asked for the a description of the proposed app, what explanation (if any) they received from Apple on why it was rejected, what other Google applications have been approved or are pending, and are there other mechanisms by which an iPhone user will be able to access either some or all of the features of Google Voice? If so, please explain how and to what extent iPhone users can utilize Google Voice despite the fact that it is not available through Apple’s App Store (emphasis mine; I find them phrasing the inquiry to reference jailbreaking interesting).
  • AT&T has been asked what role they played in the rejection, did Apple consult with AT&T on the rejection, does AT&T know of other app store rejections, and is there anything in A&T’s terms of services that limit customer usage of third party apps?

I’ve ranted on my thoughts on how Apple is running the App store already, so I’m not going to cover it again. However, I’m applauding the FCC looking into this. Apple is handling App Store rejections similar to how myself and my childhood friends resolved differences when we played games: we changed the rules when we were losing and when called on it, we pouted. There’s no consistency to this. “Your app is approved, no wait it’s not, sorry. OK, we’re not sorry. Your bug fix is rejected even though the original app has been in the store for months. No, we’re not sorry about that, either. Your app allows unfiltered access to the Internet even though you can use Mobile Safari to find even more hardcore content.”

Riverturn, the developer of VoiceCentral — one of the Google Voice-integrated apps Apple approved and then unapproved — comments on his blog his experiences when he called Apple on their inconsistent rules and Apple just pouted. Developers need to know what the rules of rejection are before they start investing time and money into the process. It’s becoming apparent that even support from Phil Schiller himself isn’t a guarantee the app will be approved.

While I don’t think the FCC inquiry is going to directly affect whether Google Voice makes an appearance on the App Store, I hope Apple sees this as a warning shot across the bow and realizes people other than irate developers and users are paying attention. Apple needs to be more transparent about how approvals and rejections are handled. “If you don’t like it, tough,” isn’t an acceptable answer. If it takes the FCC to start a sea change, I’m all for it.

11 Responses to “FCC Opens Inquiry Regarding Google Voice App Rejection”

  1. Even with my radical background I have to ask, what gives the Feds the right to ask questions about how Apple decides to run something like the App Store?

    They can decide any way they wish to offer products for sale. Not different from someone deciding their fruit and vegetable store will sell both conventional and organic – and being sued by vegans for violating “their” ethics.

    If Apple chooses to sell someone’s App – good for them. If not – tough. It’s their decision not some public SDS commune.

  2. Google Voice makes US numbers calls free and with the Textfree app ATT will go under in no time.

    Is Google Voice enabled in android phones too?

    So by encouraging competition through proliferation of apps which a user can make free calls and text for free, will the FCC make up for the lost in revenue to the telcos.

  3. If (putatively) Apple can nix Google Voice at AT&T’s request, I wonder why they don’t similarly kill the TextFree app, which lets users bypass paying AT&T for text messaging.

    (Related note: David Pogue of the NY Times is spearheading a campaign against the major cell providers. One question he asks: why did they all double their text messaging rates—to an outrageous 20¢ per message for both sender and receiver!) at the same time. Coincidence?)

  4. Spluntyr

    I’m not sure why you think that the statement you emphasized refers to jailbreaking. You can access google voice through Safari on the iPhone and Apple obviously does not sanction jailbreaking.

    I find these questions from the FCC are pretty disheartening. They could have answered many of these with 30 minutes research and pretty much look like they don’t understand the situation by asking these basic questions. In my view when the FCC indicates that they are interested in fostering competition it means they will succeed in diluting the value of the goods/services their target corporation offers by forcing them to change their business model. It’s probably only a matter of time before a “mobile device czar” is appointed.

  5. As someone who worked on Intel Inside before I know a thing or two about the Feds (and these days, the EU) cracking down on perceived monopolistic behavior, as exemplified here by Apple. The only way to get the Feds off your back is transparency – publish your “rulebook” and then execute predictably against it.
    It’s no wonder that we do not see a lot of peripherals for the iPhone – as outlined in my post at, it costs so much more to develop HW peripherals than software. Why chance a ton of money and development opportunity only for Apple to shut you down? We know Apple will have fixed this mess once the peripherals are showing up in masses, not a trickle…