Sunday, August 2, 2009

Some Unsolicited Advice for AT&T re Google Voice

The FCC has posed a number of provocative questions to AT&T regarding the fact that iPhone subscribers cannot download and use the Google Voice application. See AT&T should stifle every motivation to play cute or clever with the FCC. Apple adopted such a strategy when it suggested to the Library of Congress and others that it would be curtains for the free world if iPhone owners could hack, jailbreak, tether, and otherwise use their handsets without fear of violating the prohibition on circumventing copyright laws contained in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. See
Apparently the ability to treat an iPhone as the equivalent to a mobile computer risks opening the AT&T network to terroristic damage.

AT&T already has implied that it has nothing to do with applications Apple decides to make available, so one could infer that AT&T had nothing to do with the Google Voice decision. Yeah, right. AT&T stands to lose millions of dollars if captive subscribers can avoid paying dollars or tens of cents for calls that Google and Skype otherwise would charge pennies.

This “pass the buck” strategy will come to haunt AT&T if the FCC does its job. By claiming that it has no involvement in content and software decisions AT&T may back itself squarely into wireless common carriage, a regulatory classification that should apply to the company in its capacity as a wireless telephone company, but which typically gets ignored. In its capacity as a provider of wireless radio transmission capacity, AT&T operates as a provider of a regulated telecommunications service.

AT&T usually wants to emphasize its information processing and content access function that deflects its regulated, common carrier status and also positions the company to be more than the purveyor of a commodity: airtime.

When AT&T claims that it operates merely as a neutral conduit, it confers upon Apple the information processing functions leaving AT&T to offer nothing more than the commodity of transmission time.