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The Google Voice App Fiasco: With the FCC Involved, Will the Truth Finally Come Out?

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Last week’s Google Voice fiasco, which has led to a lot of fear and loathing — in the iPhone developer community, the blog community and in the media — has finally reached a point that the Federal Communications Commission is looking to investigate the matter.

In fact, the FCC has sent letters (below the fold) to Apple, AT&T and Google. I bet that now we’ll finally see some kind of “truth” emerge about the whole situation. By the way, in a poll in which we asked our readers who was to blame for the fiasco, nearly 35 percent blamed Apple and about 33 percent blamed both Apple and AT&T. Nearly 275 people have voted thus far.

[polldaddy poll=1821988] While most folks folks have blamed AT&T, I have maintained that this is a battle between Google and Apple. AT&T is just the punching bag. I feared that unless the carrier came clean, it was only going to find itself on the losing end of the public debate. The FCC investigation is the worst outcome for not only AT&T, but also for Apple.

Earlier this week, AT&T said that it had no control over Apple’s App Store. Today, the company reiterated that and issued a statement in response to the FCC’s investigation. “AT&T does not manage or approve applications for the App Store. We have received the letter and will, of course, respond to it,” it said. Everyone has to respond by Aug. 21. Just as an aside, given Google’s increasing presence in Washington as a lobbying superpower, one can’t rule out Google’s silent hand in this investigation.

The FCC asked Google if there were any applications of the company’s that were approved for the Apple App store. “If so, what services do they provide, and, in Google’s opinion, are they similar to any Apple/AT&T-provided applications?” the FCC asked. The org also wants to know what other proposed apps are pending approval and what they do. Now that is pretty innocuous stuff. In comparison, Apple and AT&T are getting tougher questions. And I am just licking my chops waiting to read their responses. Hey if nothing else, it would give some clarity into how Apple rejects apps and if AT&T really is a supervillain.

Here is what the FCC wants to know from Apple:

1. Why did Apple reject the Google Voice application for iPhone and remove related third-party applications from its App Store? In addition to Google Voice, which related third-party applications were removed or have been rejected? Please provide the specific name of each application and the contact information for the developer.

2. Did Apple act alone, or in consultation with AT&T, in deciding to reject the Google Voice application and related applications? If the latter, please describe the communications between Apple and AT&T in connection with the decision to reject Google Voice. Are there any contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T that affected Apple’s decision in this matter?

3. Does AT&T have any role in the approval of iPhone applications generally (or in certain cases)? If so, under what circumstances, and what role does it play? What roles are specified in the contractual provisions between Apple and AT&T (or any non-contractual understandings) regarding the consideration of particular iPhone applications?

4. Please explain anydifferences between the Google Voice iPhone application and any Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications that Apple has approved for the iPhone. Are any of the approved VoIP applications allowed to operate on AT&T’s 3G network?

5. What other applications have been rejected for use on the iPhone and for what reasons? Is there a list of prohibited applications or of categories of applications that is provided to potential vendors/developers? If so, is this posted on the iTunes website or otherwise disclosed to consumers?

6. What are the standards for considering and approving iPhone applications? What is the approval process for such applications (timing, reasons for rejection, appeal process, etc.)? What is the percentage of applications that are rejected? What are the major reasons for rejecting an application?

Here is what AT&T has been asked to respond to:

1. What role, if any, did AT&T play in Apple’s consideration of the Google Voice and related applications? What role, if any, does AT&T play in consideration of iPhone applications generally? What roles are specified in the contractual provisions between Apple and AT&T (or in any non-contractual understanding between the companies) regarding the consideration of particular iPhone applications?

2. Did Apple consult with AT&T in the process of deciding to reject the Google Voice application? If so, please describe any communications between AT&T and Apple or Google on this topic, including the parties involved and a summary of any meetings or discussions.

3. Please explain AT&T’s understanding of any differences between the Google Voice iPhone application and any Voice over Internet Protocol applications that are currently used on the AT&T network, either via the iPhone or via handsets other than the iPhone.

4. To AT&T’s knowledge, what other applications have been rejected for use on the iPhone? Which of these applications were designed to operate on AT&T’s 3G network? What was AT&T’s role in considering whether such applications would be approved or rejected?

5. Please detail any conditions included in AT&T’s agreements or contracts with Apple for the iPhone related to the certification of applications or any particular application’s ability to use AT&T’s 3G network.

6. Are there any terms in AT&T’s customer agreements that limit customer usage of certain third-party applications? If so, please indicate how consumers are informed of such limitations and whether such limitations are posted on the iTunes website as well. In general, what is AT&T’s role in certifying applications on devices that run over AT&T’s 3G network? What, if any, applications require AT&T’s approval to be added to a device? Are there any differences between AT&T’s treatment of the iPhone and other devices used on its 3G network?

7. Please list the services/applications that AT&T provides for the iPhone, and whether there any similar, competing iPhone applications offered by other providers in Apple’s App Store.

8. Do any devices that operate on AT&T’s network allow use of the Google Voice application? Do any devices that operate on AT&T’s network allow use of other applications that have been rejected for the iPhone?

9. Please explain whether, on AT&T’s network, consumers’ access to and usage of Google Voice is disabled on the iPhone but permitted on other handsets, including Research in Motion’s BlackBerry devices.

The FCC sent letters to Catherine Novelli, VP of WorldWide Government Affairs at Apple; James W. Cicconi, Senior Executive Vice President-External and Legislative Affairs at AT&T; and Richard S. Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel for Google.

46 Responses to “The Google Voice App Fiasco: With the FCC Involved, Will the Truth Finally Come Out?”

  1. sandifop

    Looked, to me, as if Apple needed to distance itself from Google. I’m sure there are more facits than just this but these 2 points stand out to me: They had taken heat from devs for the Google voice search app last year (unpublished SDK) and the FTC was already looking into Apple and Google’s relationship (via board members).

    Too many people that don’t even use gVoice are screaming bloody ‘ell. I use gVoice ALL THE TIME and the only reason these rejections concern me is the noise from people that don’t use it. The din is worrisome.

  2. some guy

    I just downloaded GV Mobile from cydia on my iphone. I’m on the T-Mobile network which only charges 5.99 for t-zones (edge speed) internet. You just have to jailbreak and unlock your iphone and put in your t-mobile sim card. This process is described fully on youtube with links of where to download everything.

  3. Does Fring work on AT&T network on any handsets (like Nokia for instance)? It provides skype and VoIP among multiple different services and works over 3G connections (here in Europe at least).

  4. If you look back to the press before the launch of the iPhone SDK in early 2008, Steve Jobs was quoted “as saying if someone develops a VoIP program for the iPhone, Apple will allow it if it goes over WiFi and not the cellular network. Apple will in fact BLOCK VoIP applications from running over the cellular data network.”

    Looks like they are staying consistent with that message. At the time, it made sense since Apple was revenue sharing on data/voice plans so they had very strong incentive to protect carrier revenues.

    Don’t forget that Apple is competing for the best subsidies they can get from carriers against other devices. While in the U.S. iPhone is dominent so maybe AT&T has no choice but in many other markets they are still attempting gain share. Unless you sell at retail with no subsidies like Nokia in many markets, manufacturers have to battle for a small number of slots at major carriers.

  5. As a provider of a voice telephony services, wireless (and wireline) carriers are obligated to meet a host of sometimes complicated and costly rules that have put in place by regulators. These are, for the most part, designed to benefit the public in terms of safety and consumer protection.

    If Google wants to run a voice service on someone else’s voice network, that’s fine, but perhaps they should also be asked to carry their weight with public obligations as well. These include 911, CALEA/law enforcement intercept, privacy/CPNI rules, tariffs, Universal Service Fund, live customer support, billing rules, etc. And maybe Google should provide “open access” to their search results page and publish their algorithms so anyone has an equal and unfettered opportunity to appear at the top of a search results query. Clearly, Google’s business model, which is synonymous with “free stuff”, could not financially sustain such pubic obligations, so they are doing what any good business would do in trying to lobby their way out of them. Google sells their own real estate to the highest bidder out of one side of their mouth, and then out of the other side they expect to lay rightful claim to someone else’s real estate, in exchange for nothing in return.

  6. Jose A Vivas

    First at all, every body knows the path of every single gadget [new one] in the actual carrier “State Of The Things”: One or two years of exclusive contract with his first carrier. Just look Android of Google. We do not know [ I do not see in the Apple’s SEC statement] the obscure income for Apple in communication’s services trough AT&T, and how this App produce a notable perturbation in her income. In my first guess this a classic 80/20 problem: 80% of the fault goes to AT&T and 20% for Apple.

    I am waiting for the response of all parties trough FCC. Google Voice is a truly innovation service. Google use the carrier [AT& T ] as a “dump pipe”.

    It means a simple one: This is the role of the “old” communication in the very near future. The rejection of this App is a real stop for innovation service in a Country where the speed of Internet is near 90 times slower than South Korea. What a shame.


    Jose A Vivas

  7. Apple doesn’t want the GV app because it threatens the service provided by the carrier, AT&T now and others in time, and because allowing services on the iPhone that compete with those offered by the carriers, voice and SMS, devaluates the handset and reduces the price Apple can garner from the iPhone with AT&T and those future carriers.

    AT&T doesn’t want GV because its services, like free SMS, threaten AT&T’s existing customer contracts, such as the up-sold purchase of unlimited SMS and its long distance/over-seas per minute pricing which costs much less on GV. Consumers will just buy the AT&T basic package and use GV for everything else.

    This battle is inevitable. Apple, Google and AT&T are just the gladiators; but while Google will likely emerge victorious on the surface, the real winners are the consumers. The outcome of this gets all of us one step closer to being able to use any device on any network with any available application blocked by no carrier and no manufacturer.

    Wireless providers: AT&T, Verizon, T-mobile, Sprint…here’s an early welcome to the dumb-pipe world of Comcast,, et al. Apple…be careful…you’ve put yourself on a path to the proprietary graveyard of others…like Tandy.

  8. Brett Glass

    What’s scary here is that it appears that the FCC wants to regulate applications and their ability to run on computing platforms. Think about the implications of this! Some folks may not like Apple determining what will run on the iPhone, but would you rather have the government do it? And by what statute is the FCC authorized to do it?

      • Brett Glass

        It’s well known that such letters from the FCC are “shots across the bow” which directly threaten action.

        It does not seem to me that the FCC’s enabling legislation allows it to regulate computing platforms, but if it were determined that it did, it would be particularly scary because of where it could lead.

        Think about it. The manufacturers of computer gaming consoles (all of which now telecommunicate!) have, to date, been able to control which software products were available for their platforms, and have used this control to reduce the initial cost of the console and make up the money via the revenue stream from the software. If the FCC could regulate which apps Apple allows onto the iPhone, it could also regulate which games (especially networked games) console makers allowed onto their platforms.

        Come to think of it, all computers nowadays come equipped to telecommunicate, too (via Ethernet and usually Wi-Fi). So, once the camel’s nose was in the tent, these platforms would be subject to regulation as well. Operating system manufacturers and computer manufacturers would have to manage their platforms as the FCC saw fit.

        Do we want to open this can of worms merely because a few iPhone users — who bought the product with full knowledge that it was a closed platform — are now experiencing buyer’s remorse? Should we let monopolist Google (which seems to be pulling the strings here) control the FCC like a puppet?

      • jbrandonf

        it seems you’re preparing for a flood that may never happen. You’re talking about the App Store being regulated like it’s an absolute certainty. Stop getting all twisted up over events that haven’t happened yet

  9. Valley Bob

    you all Re a bunch of delusional, spoiled brats. apple and AT&T control their device and their network. they can approve whatever they feel like and you are free to use an iPhone, use at&t, or not.

    even more of a disgrace is that now a bunch of valley elitists have direct influence on the FCC with their buddy heading it, so their whining and complaining cause FCC to get involved.

    if you really care about device and network neutrality you are shooting yourself in the foot by tying your concern to such a selfish cause. we get it- you want your iPhone on verizon. but don’t pretend you are fighting anti- trust, anti-competition when you are just being selfish snobs.

    • jbrandonf

      So let’s say that if AT&T is behind all this and I want to take my iPhone elsewhere…oops, where do I go? iPhone is locked to the AT&T network. Anti-competitive.

      What’s also unfair is that google voice is available on other AT&T handsets! Can you explain that reasonably, and not just give me some crap about iPhone users using more bandwidth. Google voice is a telephony service, not a voip application.

      Unrelated, those questions asked by the FCC are excellent and I would love to know the answers to all of them without (hopefully) the vague answers and corporate spin.

      • Valley Bob

        Is it “anti-competitive” that you can’t buy a Ford with a Honda V-Tec engine?

        Should the government force Omnigroup to make Windows versions of Omnigraffle – since clearly they are forcing people to buy Macs to use their software?

        When you bought you iPhone, you knew (and agreed contractually) that you could only use it on AT&T, like it or not. So now you are saying it’s anti-competitive that they won’t let you break the contract you agreed to?

        Again, if you don’t like it, switch carriers and get a phone that only works on their network. AT&T and Apple are not preventing other carriers from offering competitive products.

        If you don’t like that phones are locked, period, than you have an argument. But picking on the iPhone because you personally are frustrated by the situation you agreed to, is ridiculous.

      • jbrandonf

        If Apple wasn’t allowing Omnigraffle on their platform but allowing competitors then yes, there should be an investigation. Or if Omnigraffle was available then pulled because of “duplicated functionality” then yes again.

        I signed a two year contract to use my iPhone on AT&T, people are saying that we need to speak with our money, how would you suggest I do that? I cannot use my phone on any other network obviously.

        I’m against exclusivity agreements. It’s exactly that which is forcing me to wait until the end of summer to get the ability to receive mms or tether my phone. If the phone could be purchased unlocked and used on other networks AT&T couldn’t feel like they could get away with this kind of behavior. I’m not picking on the iPhone, I’m laying out a situation where I want to continue to use it but send AT&T a message by not rewarding them with my money.

      • jbrandonf

        To add, AT&T liscenses airwaves from the government. It’s not some kind of free for all.

        Imagine if your ISP told you you couldn’t visit Hulu, YouTube etc because it duplicates functionality or it would put too much of a strain on their network? A better example would be your ISP forbidding you from installing the desktop Hulu app on your computer but you get the point.

    • Robert Welbourn

      Valley Bob,

      “…their device, their network?”

      No, the device is mine. Subsidy or not, I purchased it. As for the network, the infrastructure may be AT&T’s (or VZW’s, or Sprint’s, or T-Mobile’s for that matter), but the frequencies are a public resource regulated by the FCC.

      It is entirely reasonable to encourage device and application competition, for the public good, in exchange for being given a franchise to make money from the public airwaves. It’s time we had a Carterfone-type ruling for mobile networks.

      And your analogy of buying a Ford with a Honda V-Tec engine is laughable; if we were to take it to its logical conclusion, it would allow Ford to prevent car enthusiasts from modding their own vehicles.

  10. coldbrew

    Anyone that doesn’t believe ATT had a direct influence on the disapproval of GV apps is simply incorrect. If it truly is just AAPL trying to compete with GOOG, then the outcome of this investigation should vindicate ATT.

    But, that’s not going to happen because ATT enforced some portion of their contract with AAPL to prevent GV apps. Plain and simple. I can’t believe anyone would really believe GOOG’s services compete more with AAPL’s products than ATT’s services.

    Malik: You’ve covered telecom for a long time. I mean, c’mon? Prepare to eat crow.

      • deeceefar2

        This seems more like a fight between Google and AT&T in relation to the open network provision from the 700mhz spectrum auction. Google is making it known that the only one who has a say in whether its apps run on the Iphone is Apple, and that legally AT&T can have no say in the situation due to the open network provision they agreed to with the 700mhz spectrum auction. This seems like just another step along the way to Wireless carriers becoming dumb networks.

      • last reply is totally wrong. Verizons 700mhz NATIONAL block purchase was the only open-access block sold. At&t only bought small market blocks that didn’t have access conditions. Even so, open access has never been as big an issue w/ at&t as their devices are far more standardized and swapable using SIM cards and they also now are a big WIFI promoter.