FCC To Examine Google Voice Service

According to people familiar with the matter, the Federal Communications Commission plans to open an inquiry into Google's Voice service, looking into how the service works and whether or not the Internet giant is restricting calls. Earlier this week, a group of 20 Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives who mostly represent rural areas wrote a letter to the FCC asking it to investigate Google's ability to block calls."We are formally requesting an investigation by the FCC into the nature and function of Google Inc's voice service," they wrote in the letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. The FCC has already sought information from Google and AT&T.

At the heart of the inquiry are allegations that Google is blocking calls to certain numbers with high access charges such as adult chat lines and free teleconferencing. By blocking the calls, Google's expenses for the service are reduced. AT&T has complained, saying Google is violating rules that were designed to ensure phone companies will connect all calls. Google claims its phone management service isn't subject to these common carrier telephone rules because it is a free service that customers can only use if they have a traditional telephone line.

AT&T and other carriers don't like the high access charges either, but they don't have a choice: Several years ago, carriers were rebuked by the FCC for blocking such calls. The FCC has said that common-carrier telephone companies can't pick and choose which numbers they will patch through. In this case, it seems that Google wants the best of both worlds. It wants to provide a service similar to what a telephone company does, but it also wants to claim that since calls originate from the Internet, the service is exempt from landline-related rules.