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  • Google-AT&T-Apple fight over Net calls draws FCC interest
    Update time: 2009-08-21
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    Enlarge image Enlarge By Justin Sullivan, Getty Images file
    Google CEO Eric Schmidt looks on during a conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at an October event at company offices in Mountain View, Calif.


    By Leslie Cauley, USA TODAY
    Apple (AAPL) and AT&T (T) Friday are expected to tell the Federal Communications Commission why Google's free voice application, called Google Voice, is banned from the Apple iPhone. Google is also filing comments.

      But Google (GOOG) may soon find itself on the hot seat as well, telecom and public policy analysts say.


      Why: Consumers who use Android, the Google-developed operating system for wireless devices, can't use Skype, a leading Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service. A pioneer in free Internet calling, Skype allows you to talk as long as you want without draining cellphone minutes.

      Android users get Skype Lite, a watered-down version of the original that routes calls over traditional phone networks — not the Internet. As a result, long-distance calls are still cheap or free, but cellphone minutes are gobbled up every time a Skype Lite call is made.

      Ben Scott, public policy director of Free Press, a consumer advocacy group, says Google "is in an awkward spot. On the one hand, their application is being blocked on the Apple App Store. But on the other hand, they engaged in similar behavior" with Skype.

      Skype, to some degree, is caught in the middle.

      Android "does not support a full-featured version of Skype," Skype told USA TODAY. "In order to make Skype available on Android devices, as well as hundreds of other regular mobile phones, we designed Skype Lite."

      In a statement prepared for USA TODAY, Google acknowledged that it "has the ability to filter," or block, VoIP. The search giant said it does that "at the request" of individual operators. Right now, there are just two Android devices in the USA: the G1 and MyTouch, both sold by T-Mobile.

      Google's explanation would seem to suggest that T-Mobile requested the block on Skype, but the carrier says that's not the case. "T-Mobile has not asked Google to block that service," says spokesman Joe Farren, referring to original Skype.

      Google says the latest version of Android for developers would support full VoIP, but no developer has submitted an app.

      As part of its Google Voice probe, the FCC has asked Google to describe its process for "considering and approving" Android apps. The agency also asked the Web giant to specify the percentage of apps that are rejected and explain why.

      Roger Entner, head of telecom research at Nielsen, says that with wireless red hot he's not surprised Google, Apple and the others are playing hardball. "They're all equal opportunity offenders."

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