No Apple, Google, AT&T Love at FCC

Last Updated Aug 3, 2009 9:16 AM EDT

On Friday, I started to wonder whether Apple not allowing Google Voice into the iPhone app store was a clever plan to avoid regulatory pressure by either the SEC, FTC, or FCC, particularly when there has been growing criticism over the two companies sharing two board directors, one of whom is Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Well, scratch at least one third of that plan, now.

The Federal Communications Commission is opening an inquiry into Apple's rejection of the Google Voice app and sent letters to both companies as well as AT&T about the decision. Here's the letter to Apple:
July 31, 2009Catherine A. Novelli, Vice President Worldwide Government Affairs Apple Inc. 901 15th Street, NW, Suite 1000 Washington, DC 20005 RE: Google Voice and related iPhone applications

Dear Ms. Novelli: Recent press reports indicate that Apple has declined to approve the Google Voice application for the iPhone and has removed related (and previously approved) third-party applications from the iPhone App Store. In light of pending FCC proceedings regarding wireless open access (RM-11361) and handset exclusivity (RM-11497), we are interested in a more complete understanding of this situation.

To that end, please provide answers to the following questions by close of business on Friday, August 21, 2009.

1. Why did Apple reject the Google Voice application for iPhone and remove related third-party applications from its App Store? In addition to Google Voice, which related third-party applications were removed or have been rejected? Please provide the specific name of each application and the contact information for the developer.

2. Did Apple act alone, or in consultation with AT&T, in deciding to reject the Google Voice application and related applications? If the latter, please describe the communications between Apple and AT&T in connection with the decision to reject Google Voice. Are there any contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T that affected Apple's decision in this matter?

3. Does AT&T have any role in the approval of iPhone applications generally (or in certain cases)? If so, under what circumstances, and what role does it play? What roles are specified in the contractual provisions between Apple and AT&T (or any non-contractual understandings) regarding the consideration of particular iPhone applications?

4. Please explain any differences between the Google Voice iPhone application and any Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications that Apple has approved for the iPhone. Are any of the approved VoIP applications allowed to operate on AT&T's 3G network?

5. What other applications have been rejected for use on the iPhone and for what reasons? Is there a list of prohibited applications or of categories of applications that is provided to potential vendors/developers? If so, is this posted on the iTunes website or otherwise disclosed to consumers?

6. What are the standards for considering and approving iPhone applications? What is the approval process for such applications (timing, reasons for rejection, appeal process, etc.)? What is the percentage of applications that are rejected? What are the major reasons for rejecting an application?

Request for Confidential Treatment. If Apple requests that any information or documents responsive to this letter be treated in a confidential manner, it shall submit, along with all responsive information and documents, a statement in accordance with section 0.459 of the Commission's rules. 47 C.F.R. § 0.459. Requests for confidential treatment must comply with the requirements of section 0.459, including the standards of specificity mandated by section 0.459(b). Accordingly, "blanket" requests for confidentiality of a large set of documents are unacceptable. Pursuant to section 0.459(c), the Bureau will not consider requests that do not comply with the requirements of section 0.459.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation. Sincerely, James D. Schlichting Acting Chief Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Federal Communications Commission
You can find the other two letters as well at ZDNet Between the Lines.

If this was an attempt to still the antitrust waters, it failed spectacularly. Now the question is whether Apple will respond in the manner that has become typical for it when controversy over iPhone apps appears, claiming it was a mistake and immediately making Google Voice available through its app store.

Image via stock.xchng user col22, site standard license.
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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