AT&T has taken off the boxing gloves in its fight with Google over the Google Voice service and proposed Net Neutrality rules. In a letter to the FCC (PDF) this week, AT&T went on the attack to portray Google as a big powerful company that's trying to fool the FCC into believing that the rules shouldn't apply to it.
In the letter, AT&T is still trying to cover all of its bases. That means that, at times, it's hard to follow which arguments it's trying to make - the one about Google Voice or the one about net neutrality. And it doesn't help that it stooped a little too low by referencing a convent of Benedictine nuns in a list of those who were handicapped by having calls to their numbers blocked to and from Google Voice numbers. Just mentioning an ambulance service, health clinic and school - which were also in the list - would have been sufficient.
AT&T, of course, is trying to make the larger point. The net neutrality rules will likely be in place for some time. AT&T wants to make sure that the FCC closes the potential loopholes for Google - such as being able to call itself a "Web service" to avoid being regulated as a telecommunication service.
I've long argued that Google Voice is a Web service, not a phone service, because it needs a working landline or cell phone to process the call. AT&T recognizes that, too, and notes that - regardless of how it does it - Google Voice processes a "PSTN-to-PSTN" call and therefore falls under the jurisdiction of the FCC.
Here's the part where AT&T is making sure that it covers all bases:
And even if some aspects of Google Voice do not qualify as a telecommunications service as Google alleges, they would nonetheless qualify as an “information service” under the Communications Act because they would offer a “capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications.” These services are thus no less subject to FCC jurisdiction than is broadband Internet access service, which is an information service.
This, of course, is the argument that those "open and free" rules should apply to everyone, not just AT&T, Comcast and other broadband pipeline operators. In AT&T's opinions, Google - as a content delivery network - is just as much a gatekeeper of the Internet as AT&T, which manages the pipeline. It used to be that the ISP was also the provider of the content (remember AOL?) but those days have largely gone away as people get Internet content from Google searches or sites like Yahoo Finance.
Anonymous sources told The Washington Post, however, that the FCC is more interested in violations of telecommunications laws and not as concerned with potential violations of net neutrality. Separately, the Post Tech blog also reported that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is pushing for net neutrality rules that would focus more on broadband providers - the cable companies and telcos - and less on web companies such as Yahoo and Google.
With the cards stacking up this way, it's no wonder that AT&T is going on the attack, pulling out the nuns and covering all bases. This is pretty much that last Hail Mary pass to the FCC before the big vote next week.