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Google Voice Ban Is Clear Network Neutrality Violation
And both AT&T and Apple should share the blame...
by Karl Bode 04:04PM Thursday Jul 30 2009
On Tuesday it was revealed that Apple had banned Google Voice from the iPhone app store. The new service has the potential to be a game changer, allowing users, among other things, to send free SMS messages and make international calls at reduced rates. The obvious conclusion was that AT&T played a role in the ban, given that SMS revenues are a massive cash cow with a limited life span the carrier wants to protect at any cost. When we asked AT&T if it was their call, they told us to ask Apple, who is too cool to comment publicly. Neither should get a free pass, yet both probably will.

AT&T has shown they have the authority to cripple or ban applications that erode AT&T's bottom line. The Skype application for iPhone was released back in March with crippled 3G functionality to limit its impact on AT&T voice revenues. 3G functionality was also crippled on the Slingbox app, and while AT&T blamed network congestion, the telco has been cooking up their own place-shifting solution exclusive to iPhone and U-Verse users for some time.

More motive? The vast majority of executives at AT&T despise Google because the search giant represents their deepest fear: a future where companies like AT&T are just dumb pipes, over which content companies deliver services that soak up advertising revenue old school phone executives really do believe belongs to them. The baby bells so despise Google, they pay gentlemen whose entire purpose is to smear the search giant.

While the motive for AT&T is fairly obvious, not everybody seemed to think AT&T deserved the blame. Blogger Om Malik has been arguing for several days that AT&T couldn't be responsible for the ban, because AT&T hadn't banned the Google Voice app via Blackberry. Of course that's only because AT&T doesn't have the technical ability to do so under the decentralized Blackberry app distribution platform. Otherwise they certainly would.

On Tuesday, blogger John Gruber cited a source at AT&T who confirmed AT&T was behind the decision, but the debate still seems to be raging over who exactly deserves the blame. Why precisely we can't blame both AT&T and Apple isn't exactly clear. Apple's walled garden and schizophrenic application store approval process has been the bane of most developers for months, and AT&T has a long track record of anti-competitive behavior that most of the bloggers covering this latest scuff up probably didn't even know existed.

Both Apple and AT&T conspired to prohibit competition and limit the open Internet in order to protect revenues. While brand loyalists will proclaim such anti-competitive skulduggery is just good business, I'll go so far as to use the dreaded nerd N-word and call this what it is. While AT&T's 4chan block was just stupid, the AT&T and Apple decision to block the Google Voice application is a rare, clear example of a network neutrality violation.

Even if you want to argue semantics and proclaim it's not technically a neutrality violation because the filtering isn't happening at a base network level good for you; it's still severely anti-competitive behavior. And we should be collectively wise enough to expect no different. As we've discussed all week in terms of Verizon's not so open app store, a baby bell in charge of the chicken coop is going to net the same bloody results every time.

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