US regulator questions Apple over Google Voice

In letters to Apple, AT&T and Google, it asks why Google Voice and related applications were rejected for the iPhone

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has written to Apple, AT&T and Google questioning the rejection of Google Voice and related applications from the iPhone App Store.

In a letter sent Friday to Apple, the agency asked the company why Google Voice was rejected, which related applications have been rejected along with it, and what role AT&T may have played in the decision.

It also asked what the difference is between Google Voice and other VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) software that has been approved for the iPhone.

More broadly, the agency asked Apple what other applications have been rejected for the phone and why.

Apple's process for approving or rejecting applications for the iPhone has drawn wide criticism for being murky and unpredictable. Google Voice is a VoIP service that lets users set up one phone number and have it ring on all of their phones at once, and control which phones ring at which times of the day or week, among other things.

The rejection of Google Voice, and the removal from the App Store of third-party applications that use it, led some observers to suspect AT&T squelched the software because it feared competition for its own voice services. In its letter, the FCC cited pending proceedings at the agency regarding wireless open access and handset exclusivity.

The agency requested answers from all three companies by the close of business on Aug. 21.

Skype asked the FCC in 2007 to declare that carriers can't stop consumers from using its peer-to-peer VoIP service over their mobile networks. Just last month, the agency said it would investigate exclusivity deals between handset makers and carriers to determine whether they hurt consumer choice and innovation.

In a letter addressed to Catherine Novelli, Apple's vice president of worldwide government affairs, the FCC asked what roles Apple and AT&T each play in evaluating applications for the iPhone, including contractual provisions and "non-contractual understandings" between the companies.

It also asked Apple to describe the approval process, give the major reasons for rejecting applications, and say what percentage are turned down.

This information, if made public, would provide clarity that many developers and consumers have been clamoring for since the popular App Store was launched last year. The FCC wrote that if Apple wants to keep any of its answers confidential, it has to submit a statement giving specific reasons why.

"Accordingly, 'blanket' requests for confidentiality of a large set of documents are unacceptable," the letter said. All three letters were signed by James Schlichting, acting chief of the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.

The FCC's questions for AT&T cover much the same ground, but it also asks whether any devices on AT&T's network allow use of Google Voice or other applications that have been rejected for the iPhone.

In its letter to Google, the agency asks about any communications with Apple about Google Voice. It also asks whether there are any other Google applications pending with Apple and what services they provide.

The FCC also asks about Google's standards for considering applications for its own Android mobile platform.

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
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