FCC Investigating App Store Rejection of Google Voice

The FCC has opened an inquiry into the rejection of the official Google Voice app from the App Store, which occurred at the same time that the App Store was "cleansed" of any Google Voice-enabled third-party apps.

On Friday, the FCC sent letters to all three parties involved: Google, Apple, and AT&T. While the letters to Apple and AT&T asked for an explanation for the rejection, the letter to Google simply asked questions about Google Voice as well as any prior Google apps accepted by Apple. Except, that the feds did ask how the Android Marketplace worked, in terms of rejecting apps.

Here's the letter sent to Apple, sent to Catherine A. Novelli, Vice President of Worldwide Government Affairs of Apple.
Dear Ms. Novelli:

Recent press reports indicate that Apple has declined to approve the Google Voice application for the iPhone and has removed related (and previously approved) third-party applications from the iPhone App Store.1 In light of pending FCC proceedings regarding wireless open access (RM-11361) and handset exclusivity (RM-11497), we are interested in a more complete understanding of this situation.

To that end, please provide answers to the following questions by close of business on Friday, August 21, 2009.

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 any differences 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?

Request for Confidential Treatment. If Apple requests that any information or documents responsive to this letter be treated in a confidential manner, it shall submit, along with all responsive information and documents, a statement in accordance with section 0.459 of the Commission's rules. 47 C.F.R. § 0.459. Requests for confidential treatment must comply with the requirements of section 0.459, including the standards of specificity mandated by section 0.459(b). Accordingly, “blanket” requests for confidentiality of a large set of documents are unacceptable. Pursuant to section 0.459(c), the Bureau will not consider requests that do not comply with the requirements of section 0.459.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation.
Question 6 above ought to be interesting. Apple has never revealed exactly what the standards are that it uses for accepting or rejecting apps. This could even mean that someday we could find out, via a Freedom of Information Act filing.

The FCC wants replies from all three companies by August 21st. You can read the letters here (.PDF, Google, AT&T, Apple).

Tags:  Apple, iPhone, ATT, Google, FCC