AT&T (s T) today countered Google’s (s goog) 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.