AT&T Statement on Google Voice and Net Neutrality

September 25, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – AT&T today filed a letter with the FCC reiterating its support for a vibrant, open Internet and the four principles contained in the Commission’s Internet Policy Statement. In particular, AT&T highlighted the importance of the fourth principle, which calls for fair competition among providers of networks, applications, services and content. AT&T noted numerous press reports indicating that Google is systematically blocking telephone calls from consumers that use Google Voice to call phone numbers in certain rural communities and, as a result, is reducing its access expenses. A June 2007 FCC decision prohibits other providers, including those with which Google Voice competes, from taking such action. Google has dismissed the Commission’s order, claiming that Google Voice “isn’t a traditional phone service and shouldn’t be regulated like other common carriers.” The following statement may be attributed to AT&T’s Senior Vice President-Federal Regulatory Robert Quinn:

“Google Voice has claimed for itself a significant advantage over providers offering competing services. By openly flaunting the call blocking prohibition that applies to its competitors, Google is acting in a manner inconsistent with the spirit, if not the letter, of the FCC’s fourth principle contained in its Internet Policy Statement. Ironically, Google is also flouting the so-called ‘fifth principle of non-discrimination’ for which Google has so fervently advocated.

“While Google argues for others to be bound by net neutrality rules, it argues against itself being bound by common carriage, which the Financial Times aptly recognized as an ‘intellectual contradiction.’ Such a contradiction highlights the fallacy of any approach to Internet regulation that focuses myopically on network providers, but not application, service, and content providers. To the extent ‘net neutrality’ is animated by a concern about ostensible Internet ‘gatekeepers,’ that concern must necessarily apply to application, service, and content providers that, like Google, can exercise their power to control which websites consumers will see and which consumers’ calls will be blocked.

“AT&T strongly emphasizes that the existing Internet principles are serving consumers well in their current form and there is no sound reason to radically expand and codify those principles. But if the Commission nonetheless embarks on such a course as it apparently plans to do in an upcoming rulemaking, it absolutely must ensure that any such rules apply evenly – not just to network operators but also to providers of Internet applications, content and services. Anything less would be ineffective, legally suspect and, in all events, a direct repudiation of President Obama’s call for a ‘level playing field.’

“Accordingly, the Commission cannot, through inaction or otherwise, give Google a special privilege to play by its own rules while the rest of the industry, including those who compete with Google, must instead adhere to Commission regulations. We urge the Commission to level the playing field and order Google to play by the same rules as its competitors.”