AT&T has sent a rather pointed letter to the FCC accusing Google of violating Network Neutrality standards. No, that isn’t a typo. AT&T’s beef is that Google Voice will not connect calls to some numbers that traditional telecoms are required to connect. This is because of so-called “common carrier” laws.
Some rural local telephone carriers charge long distance companies extremely high fees to connect calls to certain numbers on their networks. These are usually numbers for conference call centers, adult chat lines, or party lines. Sneakily, revenues from these connections are shared with the owners of the lines. Google Voice does not connect these calls, and AT&T thinks that isn’t fair.
It is interesting that Google, a company that strongly supports Net Neutrality, is taking this course of action. AT&T seems to want them to be treated like any other telecom, but in Google’s response, they lay out their rationale for why AT&T should shut it.
Google says that first and foremost, Google Voice is a free service. To make it workable, they simply cannot spend money to connect those calls. They also say that Google Voice is software, and software isn’t covered by common carriers rules. Finally, they claim that since Google Voice is an invite-only beta service, it doesn’t need to comply with all regulations.
So, is this just AT&T trying to distract the FCC, or is Google really in the wrong here?
The two largest wireless providers in the US, Verizon and AT&T, are not cool with the FCC’s new push for Network Neutrality. On Monday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski gave a speech outlining plans to create a set of binding Net Neutrality rules that would extend to the wireless industry. AT&T claimed regulation was not needed saying, "AT&T has long supported the principle of an open Internet and has conducted its business accordingly."
The companies also argue that wireless service is a different animal, and Net Neutrality practices may not be feasible. "On a wireline broadband network, you know where your customer is," said Verizon VP of Regulatory Affairs. "So you can build capacity to handle the peak demands. But on a wireless network, you have a crowd converge on a site that suddenly has 10 times or 100 times the users competing for the same resources."
AT&T and Verizon both pointed out that they were behind the FCC initiative for wired broadband, just not for their wireless networks. Verizon also called attention to their policy to allow any compatible, certified device to use its 3G network. Consumer advocates say that there are multiple non-neutral practices taking place on wireless broadband networks to be dealt with. VoIP applications, like Skype, often find themselves barred from operating on cellular 3G networks. With the FCC already investigating competition in the wireless industry, this may lead to still more hearings. Should Net Neutrality extend to cellular data networks? Let us know in the comments.
It was no surprise today when Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski gave a speech on Network Neutrality. In the speech, at the Brookings Institute, Genachowski suggested formalizing the FCC’s “principals” of neutral networks, making them official policy. The FCC Chair proposed two specific rules. The first would prevent ISPs from slowing any specific type of Internet traffic. This would, however, still allow for reasonable network management practices. The second rule would require ISPs to be completely transparent about what sort of network management practices they were using.
Network Neutrality has been of more mainstream interest since congressional hearings on the subject began a few years ago. Amidst all the talk of “a series of tubes’, very little got done. Now Genachowski is making his case in no uncertain terms. “I am convinced that there are few goals more essential in the communications landscape than preserving and maintaining an open and robust Internet,” said the FCC Chair. He went on to clarify that the proposed changes would also apply to wireless providers.
For their part, ISPs are almost universally against the changes. They claim that Net Neutrality requirements would prevent them from managing their networks. Genachowski attempted to assuage their fears, explaining that violations of the proposed rules would be handled individually. The FCC will begin seeking public input and feedback at its meeting in October. So, do you feel we need regulation to ensure a neutral Internet?
It sounds like Comcast is about to get it’s hand slapped for blocking P2P file sharing on it’s network. That is good news, as it will send a message about screwing with folks internet access. The funny part is where the message is coming from.
The head of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin Martin said he will recommend that the Comcast be punished for violating agency principles that guarantee customers open access to the Internet. "The commission has adopted a set of principles that protects consumers access to the Internet," Martin told The Associated Press. "We found that Comcast's actions in this instance violated our principles."
This is the same Kevin Martin that wants a free but filtered national broadband that we covered previously. Don’t mess with people’s file sharing, but it is a good idea to filter access to information. (we really want our pr0n). Ah, the duplicity of politicians, even appointed ones. It’s kind of like the obnoxious Uncle from when you were a kid. He’d point at your shoes so he could whack you upside the head while you were looking at your feet.
More on Martin's order for Comcast after the jump.