It's that time of the year again--when nothing is as it appears. I know this because my kids started to nag me about Halloween costumes. You know, what they should be (and what I have to buy). The first catalogues started coming in the mail last week, and the Internet has been humming with on-line searches since then. But, witches, goblins, and haunted houses aren't the only artificial distortions decorating the autumn landscape this year.
Last Friday, the 25th, AT&T sent a letter to the FCC complaining that Google asserts the right to offer a service that closely resembles regular phone service, but without terminating calls to high-cost providers, like "traffic pumpers." To be able to selectively avoid completing calls to carriers that charge excessively high termination rates confers a big cost advantage over ones competitors. Therefore, AT&T argues, on the one hand, that Google should be treated like every other provider of "phone" service and be required to terminate calls to all parties. Google, for its part, claims that Google Voice is an application and not subject to "common carrier" obligations. According to Google's service description, the "common carrier" transport portion of its service (if there is one) is provided by a competitive carrier called Bandwidth.Com.
Alternatively, AT&T explains that even if the "Google Voice" service is an "application" or an "information service" it violates the "fourth principle" of the FCC's existing Broadband Policy Statement principles, which apply to all providers of "telecommunications." para. 4. [Note: the existing Broadband Policy Statement principles apply not just to "telecommunications services" which would only cover "telecommunications" offered for a fee to the public, thus Google's point that its service is "free" does not mean it cannot violate a Broadband Freedom principle.] The fourth Broadband Policy Principle provides that, "consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers." AT&T also argues that, if Google Voice is an application, Google's service would violate the Commission's proposed "fifth" principle of "non-discrimination" which would ensure consumers that a provider could not block access to another provider.
So, what's the big deal? Where is the magic? Where are the "illusions"? Isn't this just a business-as-usual, Hatfield-McCoy, AT&T-sniping-at-Google letter? Well, I'm not sure. As I've disclosed before, I do some consulting for AT&T, but I wasn't involved in this letter, and I'm not privy to AT&T's reasons for sending it, but I would caution against taking the letter too literally--in the AT&T v. Google sense. I'm just an educated observer, but I actually think another blog, Telecom Ramblings, got the right answer first in this post from September 27th.
Continue reading VoIP and POTS: Regulatory Classifications or Magical Incantations?