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AT&T‘s stranglehold on the iPhone seems to have larger implications than the average customer may realize. Issues such as access, fees and Net neutrality have quickly arisen in an escalating skirmish that is less than six months old.

As of now, iPhone users cannot take advantage of one of Google’s latest innovations, Google Voice. It takes advantage of the company’s online computing and extensive network. Customers can consolidate their home, office and cellphone numbers into one Google number. The account provides free calls in the United States, plus voice mail in audio and text formats.

Apple did not like what it saw and in July blocked Google Voice software from its iPhone app store.   The FCC took notice and began probing the dispute, as  Mark Milian of the Los Angeles Times reports:

“Apple has said it has reservations about the application’s interface and is still considering it for approval. AT&T said it was not involved in that decision.”

AT&T did not stay neutral for very long. The company complained to the FCC that Google was selectively blocking some calls on its U.S. voice service . AT&T claims that Google Voice refuses to connect calls to rural communities where local telephone companies charge more for a connection. The FCC is looking into these allegations as well.

Joelle Tessler of the Huffington Post chronicles the tiff, writing:

“Google Voice ‘has claimed for itself a significant advantage over providers offering competing services,’ AT&T said in a letter to the FCC last month. Those concerns were echoed in a letter sent to the FCC this week by 20 members of Congress who represent rural districts.”

AT&T’s complaint dovetails with an FCC vote Oct. 22 on a network neutrality proposal; it  would prohibit owners of broadband networks from setting selective speeds for traffic, writes Tessler.

“That proposal has pitted Google and other Internet companies that support net neutrality against the big phone and cable companies, including AT&T, that want to be free of restrictions on what they can do with their networks.”

Will the FCC sort out the differences or will the three companies head to court? The future of AT&T and Apple’s relationship with Google shows no signs of improving.  The market, not a judge, may decide the issue, though. If the Google Voice app is forever blocked on the iPhone, other carriers and phone makers could take advantage of Google’s game-changing application.


Joel B. Rothman represents clients in intellectual property infringement litigation involving patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, defamation, trade libel, unfair competition, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and commercial matters. Joel’s litigation practice also includes significant focus on electronic discovery issues such as e-discovery management and motion practice relating to e-discovery.