AT&T war with Google heats up

The telcos don't think much of net neutrality. It lets companies like Google (GOOG) and its YouTube operation send massive amounts of data and video over the internet without it costing them more than it does a company that just sends text. Video fills up the "pipes" slowing the Web and forcing internet providers to eventually upgrade their systems.

Now AT&T (T) has what may up being a powerful complaint against Google which may get it some sympathy with the public and some attention from the federal government. The big telco says that Google Voice keeps consumers from calling some phone numbers. Google does say it blocks some conference calls which cost the search company extra money.

In at letter to the FCC, AT&T said "Other providers, including those with which Google Voice competes, are banned from call blocking because in June 2007, the Wireline Competition Bureau emphatically declared that all carriers are prohibited from pursuing "self help actions such as call blocking."'

Google's response was "Google Voice does restrict certain outbound calls from our Web platform to these high-priced destinations. But despite AT&T's efforts to blur the distinctions between Google Voice and traditional phone service, there are many significant differences."

If net neutrality is truly neutral, Google may have a very hard case. And, it will be one of what will probably be dozens of case brought before the FCC and federal courts over the net several years. The FCC has complicated net neutrality to such an extensive level that interpreting the concept has become increasingly difficult. Under any common sense approach, Google's call blocking should be a violation.

The war over the cost of transmission of data, voice, and video is moving from fixed line internet to wireless. Google and AT&T could easily exchange charges similar to those brought on September 25 on the issue of which calls can be blocked to and from cellphones.

The FCC will be clogged with these issues, lawyers will become rich, and the consumer will barely be able to track the rules.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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