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AT&T Cleverly Flips Google Voice Fight On Its Head
Even if they don't believe a single word they're saying...
by Karl Bode 11:12AM Monday Sep 28 2009 Tipped by S_engineer See Profile
As we discussed at length last week, network neutrality is about incumbent phone companies trying to hold on to market power in the face of Internet evolution, some of which just happens to be coming from Google. One such example is how AT&T and Apple (despite denials) prevented Google Voice from coming to the iPhone, in order to protect the companies' mobile OS and MMS/voice businesses. In other words, they used a position of market power to engage in anti-competitive behavior against a threat to revenues.

Throughout the network neutrality debate, AT&T and Verizon have consistently worked to redirect attention away from the fact they began the network neutrality debate by pointing fingers at Google whenever possible. It usually works. So it wasn't too surprising to see AT&T flip the Google Voice fiasco on its head by sending a letter to the FCC late last week accusing Google of anti-competitive behavior for blocking user access to FreeConferenceCall.com. In AT&T's letter, the carrier suggests this violates a looming fifth neutrality principle:
Ironically, Google is also flouting the so-called “fifth principle of non-discrimination” for which Google has so fervently advocated. According to Google, non-discrimination ensures that a provider “cannot block fair access” to another provider.9 But that is exactly what Google is doing when it blocks calls that Google Voice customers make to telephone numbers associated with certain local exchange carriers.
We've discussed how a slew of VoIP, network and phone operators have blocked access to these free conference services, because they use a regulatory loophole to enable a practice known as "traffic pumping," which allows small phone companies to sock bigger phone companies with huge bills for voice connections. AT&T themselves has previously come out against such practices and blocked access to these services as well, though the FCC slapped their wrist for it back in 2007, and is discussing changing the rules that allow traffic pumping.

But the problem here isn't a network neutrality one, it's a regulatory one. The rules that allow smaller phone companies to engage in traffic pumping are disliked by Google and AT&T alike, and if you sat both companies down privately they'd simultaneously argue the issue is one of bad policy, not network neutrality. In Google's response over at the Google policy blog they suggest as much, while noting that the FCC's rules on not blocking access to free conference services apply to broadband operators, not software applications.

In PR land, it's a really smart move by AT&T to conflate network neutrality with traffic pumping, even if AT&T itself probably doesn't even believe half of what they're saying. Traffic pumping's a sophisticated issue you can expect the press to bungle, and AT&T's letter acts to draw more attention to the fact that Google's got a nasty anti-competitive streak of their own. Still, none of this changes what the network neutrality argument's really about or who started it, though it does continue the proud, half-decade old tradition of AT&T trying to muddy the waters.

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