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Google Voice Slapfight: AT&T, Sex Chats, and Some Hot FCC Action

Google’s public policy blog admits that Google Voice blocks certain numbers. AT&T says this would be illegal were Google treated like any other telecom. But Google claims that if it doesn’t engage in blocking, its service will become too expensive to operate for no charge. The problem, says Google, is the telephone scheme called “traffic pumping” perpetrated by small local phone companies in cahoots with sex chat lines. (Below, FCC headquarters in Washington, D.C.)

Google’s public policy blog admits that Google Voice blocks certain numbers. AT&T says this would be illegal were Google treated like any other telecom. But Google claims that if it doesn’t engage in blocking, its service will become too expensive to operate for no charge.

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The problem, says Google, is the telephone scheme called “traffic pumping” perpetrated by small local phone companies in cahoots with sex chat lines. (Below, FCC headquarters in Washington, D.C.)

FCC

Google’s blog explains: “… [E]arlier this year, we noticed an extremely high number of calls were being made to an extremely small number of destinations. In fact, the top 10 telephone prefixes–the area code plus the first three digits of a seven digit number, e.g., 555-555-XXXX–generated more than 160 times the expected traffic volumes, and accounted for a whopping 26 percent of our monthly connection costs.”

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AT&T has argued that the FCC should treat Google like any other telecom, which can’t pick and choose which numbers it allows to connect. But since Google Voice is not a telecom provider–in fact, it’s not even real VOIP, but instead acts as a switching layer over the traditional phone system–the company argues it’s not subject to the same laws as AT&T.

Both parties agree that the problem lies in the antiquated inter-carrier phone laws, which can only be amended and updated by the FCC. In a post called “Sex, conference calls, and outdated FCC rules,” Google counsel Richard Whitt argued earlier this month that the FCC shouldn’t be looking into Google Voice for rule violations, but should be fixing a broken phone system. With the amount of fury and lobbying at the disposal of Google and AT&T, it may not be long before the FCC is pressed into doing just that.

[Via DailyTech]

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About the author

I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs

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