On Friday, AT&T asked the FCC to investigate Google Voice for, get this, violating network neutrality. On the surface, one might think this is a bit silly, since Google doesn’t actually operate a last mile network and therefore isn’t terribly likely to be shaping traffic or blocking data. But nevertheless, underneath the surface there is a point that AT&T is trying to make indirectly, and – I can’t believe I’m saying it – it’s a valid point.
But that point is not really about network neutrality or even Google, it is about the FCC’s own decade-old dirty laundry: the regulatory blight we call intercarrier compensation. The numbers Google Voice blocks are for the most part deliberately set up to game the intercarrier compensation regime. The problem is not really Google’s ability to block such calls, AT&T is really trying to get the FCC to eliminate the economic basis behind the calls in the first place. And it’s not just about the small category that Google Voice blocks they’d like to address, many VoIP business models depend to one degree or another on gaming the intercarrier compensation regime by carefully encouraging the use of phone numbers from adjacent, rural, high-access fee exchanges and such and then pocketing the cash from incoming calls.
Google’s counter-argument is that they aren’t covered by the regulation because Google Voice isn’t really a phone service. Nice fig leaf. Technically perhaps it is even a true fig leaf. But you know, if voice is data and you are blocking some of that data and not others, whether it’s because of cost or care for your customers it’s still not neutral. But I think Google’s minimal response acknowledges that they know they are not a target here, but rather a foil – one which will get attention.
I think AT&T doesn’t really expect or even care whether the FCC gives Google a rap on the knuckles over this. Their real complaint has always been with the gaming of the system by third parties. If you’re going to have true network neutrality, you’re going to have to address intercarrier compensation too because there are fundamental incompatibilities as currently written. One forbids treating data differently, the other is entirely based upon doing so.
So Julius, let’s skip the preliminaries on this one and just take intercarrier compensation off the back burner, eh? Fix that, and a whole lot of the BS in the FCC’s backlog will just melt away. Yes, I know you didn’t make the mess, but you are the one currently holding the shovel.