Google Acting Like A Carrier, Being Treated Like One By The FCC

Google, which to some eyes increasingly looks and acts like a VoIP/mobile carrier, is now effectively being treated like one by the US FCC. Today the regulatory body sent out requests for information to wireless carriers about the adequacy of their consumer disclosures associated with early termination penalties, which can be several hundred dollars in some cases.

Here’s the FCC letter in full:

Today, Federal Communications Commission Consumer Bureau Chief Joel Gurin and Wireless Bureau Chief Ruth Milkman sent letters to AT&T, Google, Sprint Nextel, TMobile, and Verizon Wireless to gather facts and data on the consumer experience with wireless early termination fees. This inquiry follows last week’s launch of the FCC’s Consumer Task Force, which was established to promote cross-agency collaboration on the Commission’s consumer agenda.

“I commend the Commission staff for its ongoing and proactive examination of the consumer experience in the wireless marketplace,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. “This inquiry is the first action by the FCC’s Consumer Task Force, which was launched last week to tackle these kinds of issues. I look forward to reviewing the responses to the letters and the recommendations from staff regarding next steps.”

  • Letter to AT&T:
  • Letter to Google:
  • Letter to Sprint Nextel:
  • Letter to T-Mobile:
  • Letter to Verizon Wireless:

The inquiry into Google here concerns the Nexus One, which carries potential, combined early termination fees of up to $550.

Previously AT&T complained that Google Voice was being allowed to block access to certain (900) numbers that it was legally unable to block. It further argued that Google Voice should equally be subject to the laws that govern common carriers. Google argued that it was not a carrier and should not be subjected to these rules:

  • Unlike traditional carriers, Google Voice is a free, Web-based software application, and so not subject to common carrier laws.
  • Google Voice is not intended to be a replacement for traditional phone service — in fact, you need an existing land or wireless line in order to use it. Importantly, users are still able to make outbound calls on any other phone device.

But then Google bought Gizmo5, which adds the missing piece and enables Google to be a VoIP carrier if it so desires. That part of the service isn’t live — yet — and so what Google says above in the second bullet remains true.

I want to be clear that the FCC isn’t making this inquiry of Google because it bought Gizmo5, but because it charges a fee if Nexus One buyers terminate their service contracts early. And the FCC inquiry is about whether consumers understand that those fees exist. But it’s interesting that Google is lumped in the group of major US wireless carriers. Smaller carriers like MetroPCS didn’t get the letter apparently.

Semi-coincidentally Google has launched an HTML5 rich web app version of Google Voice for the iPhone and Palm’s WebOS. (I’ve discussed it further on my Internet2Go blog.) It circumvents the need to make outbound calls via the carrier’s voice service and associated telephone number. The earlier Apple rejection of the formal Google Voice iPhone app was the subject of an FCC inquiry last year (as well as lots of finger pointing between Apple, Google and AT&T).

Unless or until Gizmo5′s technology is implemented and integrated into Google Voice, it’s not the same as Skype or Truphone and still requires an underlying phone service to support it. But that won’t be true for much longer I predict.

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Related Topics: Channel: Mobile | Google: Mobile


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • iPollesion

    I’ve only recently heard of the additional Google early termination fee about two weeks ago, I feel they are starting to act like a carrier too; not only that but Google’s starting to be a lot of other things on other levels ChromeOS for instance, Chrome Browser to name a few. Just makes one wonder what else is Google getting into? I understand why you’re making such a prediction as they purchased Gizmo5, on the other hand Google does it’s best to separate it’s image from competitors, they also do their best to stay open and free from a home users point of view.

    We’ll just have to wait and see what the massive corporation has planned, who knows they might spearhead another direction.

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