Google Voice shows need to update telecom laws

Google Voice shows need to update telecom laws

Summary: Is a Google Voice a phone service or a web service? The fact is, it's a question that can't be answered under our current definitions.


Is a Google Voice a phone service or a web service? The fact is, it's a question that can't be answered under our current definitions. But one thing is clear: Google Voice is the camel's nose under the policy tent that should - and perhaps will - cause a full-blown modernization of telecommuncications law. This is Google's point and it is well summed up by Business Week's Stephen Wildstrom.

In a sense, AT&T and Google are both victims of a ridiculous anachronism, as is the FCC, which must enforce it. They should all be working together to bring telecom regulation into the 21st century.

Don't expect to find AT&T and Google working together anytime soon. Google counsel Richard Whitt accused AT&T of hypocrisy (using the cheap "some people say" dodge) in its complaints that Google Voice restricts certain calls (ZD).

Some have pointed out that AT&T's complaints are hypocritical given that in the past they have asked the FCC for permission to block calls to these rural areas as well. Why? For exactly the same reasons we restrict them -- the exorbitant termination rates. Of course, AT&T charges customers for their services and also receives hundreds of millions of dollars in universal service subsidies.

AT&T apparently now wants web applications -- from Skype to Google Voice -- to be treated the same way as traditional phone services. Their approach is what a former FCC chairman has called "regulatory capitalism," the practice of using regulation to block or slow down innovation. And despite AT&T's lobbying efforts, this issue has nothing to do with network neutrality or rural America. This is about outdated carrier compensation rules that are fundamentally broken and in need of repair by the FCC.

But regardless of the need for new rules, the stakes are now high for Google in that (a) the FCC is taking AT&T's charges seriously enough to question Google; and (b) by Google's own reckoning, the termination charges are "exorbitant."

And this story might be bigger than it appears. It could be the wedge that opens Google up to serious, common-carrier-style regulation, notes Nielsen's Roger Entner in USA Today:

[G]oogle "just ran into a huge minefield." Google has long maintained that it isn't subject to government oversight, he notes. Should the FCC decide to impose rules on Google's emerging communications business, it "could no longer just basically do what it wants. Google would have to think a lot more about service offerings and how they impact consumers."

Topics: Government US, Google, Government, Telcos, AT&T

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Free vs Fee-based Service

    Isn't there some legal distinction between service that delivered for 'free'
    versus on a metered or subscription basis? If Google Voice is delivered at
    no cost to the user, don't they have more latitude in terms of service than
    those who do charge? How much can you regulate something that
    consumers don't pay for?
    • ...

      Leads me to wonder if they have the ability to tax a free service....that would be interesting...
  • RE: Google Voice shows need to update telecom laws

    Nothing like the Government to stick its nose where it does not belong.

    What is next? Taxing e-mails, and downloads as services?

    Lame...Typical Government play...who needs innovation...lets subsidize it to spend the money from taxes on everything but the national debt.

    Typical 3rd party spenders with 3rd party monies.
  • RE: Google Voice shows need to update telecom laws

    Jeez, WHAT is wrong with ZDNet today? No offense, but several of today's articles are just plain silly to me. Woof!
  • Rediculas Gvoice does not make Google a telco or a Carrier

    So does that make every other smaller vendor offering the same or very similar services a telco or is this just a special Google situation?

    Who's checking on services like

    ATT would love to spin this in the direction of blurring the line to make Google look like a Carrier.

    I say it is all BS posturing and a waste of our tax money. Isn't ATT getting enough of our money already?

  • RE: Google Voice shows need to update telecom laws

    Google does not set any standards and just because they start doing something does not mean that we should wake up to things that have been happening for decades before Google decides to enter the arena.
    Do as I have done, block Google at the downlink.