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FCC questions Google Voice's expensive call blocker

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The US Federal Communications Commission wants Google to explain how its voice service application blocks costly calls to rural areas.

The commission sent a letter to the Mountain View company on Friday, asking for details by October 28 on its much-discussed Google Voice web application. The query comes two weeks after telecom giant AT&T accused Google of violating FCC open-internet policies with Google Voice.

At issue are FCC rules that let the country's rural phone companies charge long-distance providers exorbitant fees to access their local landlines. The law was originally designed to help local phone firms survive despite low call volumes.

While long-distance outfits like AT&T are required to connect to these local markets, Google Voice blocks the calls and avoids the extra expenses. Google argues the FCC rules apply only to broadband carriers and not the creators of web-based software applications.

The FCC today told Google it must provide information on how Google Voice calls are routed, how its restrictions are implemented, and how it identifies the telephone numbers to which it restricts calls.

In a length statement to Google's telecom and media counsel in Washington, Richard Whitt, FCC wireline bureau's chief Sharon Gillet wrote: "In light of pending commission proceedings regarding concern about so-called 'access simulation,' the commission's prohibition on call blocking by carriers, as well as the commission's interest in ensuring that 'broadband networks are widely deployed, open, affordable, and accessible to all consumers,' we are interested in gathering facts that can provide a more complete understanding of the situation."

The commission also wants Google to explain how it sees Google Voice fitting in with current telecom laws, and whether it competes with any traditional telecom services.

The FCC went on to ask Google to explain specifically what is meant by calling current access to the app "invitation-only" and how many users have access to the service.

A copy of the FCC letter can be found here (PDF) or here (TXT). ®

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