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

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.