FCC Takes On Apple And AT&T Over Google Voice Rejection

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My, how the tables have turned. Earlier this week, we learned that Apple had suddenly begun to pull third party iPhone applications for Google Voice, citing the unconvincing rationale that they “duplicated” some of the iPhone’s functionality. We then broke the news that Apple had also rejected Google’s own official Google Voice application submitted six weeks prior, sparking a din of complaints from developers and users alike over the arbitrary and possibly anti-competitive restrictions being imposed by Apple. AT&T, too, has been a target of frequent criticism as many of us believe it may have also played a part in the decision. Of course, nobody really knows who is to blame — AT&T has hinted that it was ultimately Apple’s decision, and Apple continues to remain mute on the issue. But now we may get our answers: the Dow Jones newswire reports that The Federal Communications Commission is looking into Apple’s rejection of Google Voice, and has sent letters to AT&T, Apple, and Google to find out what’s going on. We’ve obtained copies of the letters and reprinted them below.

The newswire report notes that this is part of the FCC’s ongoing investigation into wireless handsets and their exclusive deals with carriers. Of course, this all comes years after Google CEO Eric Schmidt sent a letter to the FCC, urging it to adopt open standards that would gives users the freedom to use whichever applications they’d like on their wireless devices, on whichever network they preferred. At the time the suggestions seemed perhaps a bit idealistic, but now it’s becoming clear just how badly they’re needed.

It has been just over one year since Apple released the App Store, and already we’re beginning to see just what can happen when major companies collude to restrict user choice without fear of recourse. As I’ve written before, Google Voice offers a service that innovates in the telephony space in a way that hasn’t been seen for years. But rather than try to improve and offer a better service, Apple and AT&T are doing what they can do to protect their sacred cash cow. But it looks like the government isn’t going to stand for that any longer. With this move, the FCC is showing that it’s not going to let Apple carry its famed culture of secrecy into the telecom space.

FCC Letter to Apple

                                       July 31, 2009
                                                                             

Catherine A. Novelli, Vice President
Worldwide Government Affairs
Apple Inc.
901 15th Street, NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC  20005

RE: Google Voice and related iPhone applications

Dear Ms. Novelli:

Recent press reports indicate that Apple has declined to approve the Google Voice application for the iPhone and has removed related (and previously approved) third-party applications from the iPhone App Store.   In light of pending FCC proceedings regarding wireless open access (RM-11361) and handset exclusivity (RM-11497), we are interested in a more complete understanding of this situation.

To that end, please provide answers to the following questions by close of business on Friday, August 21, 2009.

1. Why did Apple reject the Google Voice application for iPhone and remove related third-party applications from its App Store?  In addition to Google Voice, which related third-party applications were removed or have been rejected?  Please provide the specific name of each application and the contact information for the developer.
2. Did Apple act alone, or in consultation with AT&T, in deciding to reject the Google Voice application and related applications?  If the latter, please describe the communications between Apple and AT&T in connection with the decision to reject Google Voice.  Are there any contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T that affected Apple’s decision in this matter?
3. Does AT&T have any role in the approval of iPhone applications generally (or in certain cases)?  If so, under what circumstances, and what role does it play?  What roles are specified in the contractual provisions between Apple and AT&T (or any non-contractual understandings) regarding the consideration of particular iPhone applications?
4. Please explain any differences between the Google Voice iPhone application and any Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications that Apple has approved for the iPhone.  Are any of the approved VoIP applications allowed to operate on AT&T’s 3G network?
5. What other applications have been rejected for use on the iPhone and for what reasons?  Is there a list of prohibited applications or of categories of applications that is provided to potential vendors/developers?  If so, is this posted on the iTunes website or otherwise disclosed to consumers?
6. What are the standards for considering and approving iPhone applications?   What is the approval process for such applications (timing, reasons for rejection, appeal process, etc.)?  What is the percentage of applications that are rejected?  What are the major reasons for rejecting an application?

Request for Confidential Treatment.  If Apple requests that any information or documents responsive to this letter be treated in a confidential manner, it shall submit, along with all responsive information and documents, a statement in accordance with section 0.459 of the Commission’s rules.  47 C.F.R. § 0.459.  Requests for confidential treatment must comply with the requirements of section 0.459, including the standards of specificity mandated by section 0.459(b).  Accordingly, “blanket” requests for confidentiality of a large set of documents are unacceptable.  Pursuant to section 0.459(c), the Bureau will not consider requests that do not comply with the requirements of section 0.459.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation.

Sincerely,

James D. Schlichting
Acting Chief
Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
Federal Communications Commission

FCC Letter to Google

July 31, 2009

Richard S. Whitt, Esq.
Washington Telecom and Media Counsel
Google Inc.
1101 New York Avenue, NW, Second Floor
Washington, DC 20005

RE: Apple’s Rejection of the Google Voice for iPhone Application

Dear Mr. Whitt:

Recent press reports indicate that Apple has declined to approve the Google Voice application for the iPhone and has removed related (and previously approved) third-party applications from the iPhone App Store. In light of pending FCC proceedings regarding wireless open access (RM-11361) and handset exclusivity (RM-11497), we are interested in a more complete understanding of this situation.

To that end, please provide answers to the following questions by close of business on Friday, August 21, 2009.

1. Please provide a description of the proposed Google Voice application for iPhone. What are the key features, and how does it operate (over a voice or data network, etc.)?
2. What explanation was given (if any) for Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice application (and for any other Google applications for iPhone that have been rejected, such as Google Latitude)? Please describe any communications between Google and AT&T or Apple on this topic and a summary of any meetings or discussion.
3. Has Apple approved any Google applications for the Apple App Store? If so, what services do they provide, and, in Google’s opinion, are they similar to any Apple/AT&T-provided applications?
4. Does Google have any other proposed applications pending with Apple, and if so, what services do they provide?
5. Are there other mechanisms by which an iPhone user will be able to access either some or all of the features of Google Voice? If so, please explain how and to what extent iPhone users can utilize Google Voice despite the fact that it is not available through Apple’s App Store.
6. Please provide a description of the standards for considering and approving applications with respect to Google’s Android platform. What is the approval process for such applications (timing, reasons for rejection, appeal process, etc.)? What is the percentage of applications that are rejected? What are the major reasons for rejecting an application?

Request for Confidential Treatment. If Google requests that any information or documents responsive to this letter be treated in a confidential manner, it shall submit, along with all responsive information and documents, a statement in accordance with section 0.459 of the Commission’s rules. 47 C.F.R. § 0.459. Requests for confidential treatment must comply with the requirements of section 0.459, including the standards of specificity mandated by section 0.459(b). Accordingly, “blanket” requests for confidentiality of a large set of documents are unacceptable. Pursuant to section 0.459(c), the Bureau will not consider requests that do not comply with the requirements of section 0.459.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation.

Sincerely,

James D. Schlichting
Acting Chief
Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
Federal Communications Commission

FCC Letter to AT&T

July 31, 2009

James W. Cicconi
Senior Executive Vice President-External and Legislative Affairs
AT&T Services, Inc.
1120 20th Street, NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20036

RE: Apple’s Rejection of the Google Voice for iPhone Application

Dear Mr. Cicconi:

Recent press reports indicate that Apple has declined to approve the Google Voice application for the iPhone and has removed related (and previously approved) third-party applications from the iPhone App Store. In light of pending FCC proceedings regarding wireless open access (RM-11361) and handset exclusivity (RM-11497), we are interested in a more complete understanding of this situation.

To that end, please provide answers to the following questions by close of business on Friday, August 21, 2009.

1. What role, if any, did AT&T play in Apple’s consideration of the Google Voice and related applications? What role, if any, does AT&T play in consideration of iPhone applications generally? What roles are specified in the contractual provisions between Apple and AT&T (or in any non-contractual understanding between the companies) regarding the consideration of particular iPhone applications?
2. Did Apple consult with AT&T in the process of deciding to reject the Google Voice application? If so, please describe any communications between AT&T and Apple or Google on this topic, including the parties involved and a summary of any meetings or discussions.
3. Please explain AT&T’s understanding of any differences between the Google Voice iPhone application and any Voice over Internet Protocol applications that are currently used on the AT&T network, either via the iPhone or via handsets other than the iPhone.
4. To AT&T’s knowledge, what other applications have been rejected for use on the iPhone? Which of these applications were designed to operate on AT&T’s 3G network? What was AT&T’s role in considering whether such applications would be approved or rejected?
5. Please detail any conditions included in AT&T’s agreements or contracts with Apple for the iPhone related to the certification of applications or any particular application’s ability to use AT&T’s 3G network.
6. Are there any terms in AT&T’s customer agreements that limit customer usage of certain third-party applications? If so, please indicate how consumers are informed of such limitations and whether such limitations are posted on the iTunes website as well. In general, what is AT&T’s role in certifying applications on devices that run over AT&T’s 3G network? What, if any, applications require AT&T’s approval to be added to a device? Are there any differences between AT&T’s treatment of the iPhone and other devices used on its 3G network?
7. Please list the services/applications that AT&T provides for the iPhone, and whether there any similar, competing iPhone applications offered by other providers in Apple’s App Store.
8. Do any devices that operate on AT&T’s network allow use of the Google Voice application? Do any devices that operate on AT&T’s network allow use of other applications that have been rejected for the iPhone?
9. Please explain whether, on AT&T’s network, consumers’ access to and usage of Google Voice is disabled on the iPhone but permitted on other handsets, including Research in Motion’s BlackBerry devices.

Request for Confidential Treatment. If AT&T requests that any information or documents responsive to this letter be treated in a confidential manner, it shall submit, along with all responsive information and documents, a statement in accordance with section 0.459 of the Commission’s rules. 47 C.F.R. § 0.459. Requests for confidential treatment must comply with the requirements of section 0.459, including the standards of specificity mandated by section 0.459(b). Accordingly, “blanket” requests for confidentiality of a large set of documents are unacceptable. Pursuant to section 0.459(c), the Bureau will not consider requests that do not comply with the requirements of section 0.459.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation.

Sincerely,

James D. Schlichting
Acting Chief
Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Federal Communications Commission

Photo credit: Billogs.

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