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Lawmakers Urge FCC Probe of Google Voice

While some communications users are gaga for Google Voice—Google’s service that offers one phone number for all a person’s phones as well as free U.S. long distance and cheap international calls—telecommunications operators like AT&T claim that Google isn’t playing fair with the service, and should be subject to the same regulations and requirements as landline service providers. At issue: connecting calls to rural areas. Those calls are expensive for telecommunications companies to connect, but they are required to do so by federal regulations. Google Voice however, not being a landline operator, isn’t bound by those regulations, so it blocks the calls and doesn’t incur any expenses.

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The high fees carriers pay to connect calls to rural communications companies have been used to support teleconferencing services, adult chat lines, and a variety of other telephone-based services. By locating these services in rural areas, the cost of the service can be partially or complete borne by fees carriers pay to rural telecommunications companies to connect the calls. The phenomena of “free” long distance service enjoyed by many U.S. consumers means they don’t think twice about placing long distance calls to any locations, and the mandate to connect rural calls was established as a ray to support rural telephone services.

Google argues that as a Web-based service, it is exempt from the regulations governing traditional phone companies. Telecommunications carriers say that Google Voice should be subject to the same connection requirements as a traditional telephone company, meaning it would be required to connect and pay for calls to rural areas. They also say Google’s stance is a double standard: Google supports “net neutrality” and demands all data be treated the same, but wants phone calls it connects to be treated differently than any other phone call.

Now, according to Reuters, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers, mostly representing rural areas, is requesting the Federal Communications Commission look into the operation of Google Voice. “A company should not be able to evade compliance with important principles of access and competition set forth by the FCC by simply self-declaring it is not subject to them without further investigation,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to FCC Chair Julius Genachowski.

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