FCC investigates Apple’s ban of Google Voice

The Federal Communications Commission late on Friday entered the fray over consumer calling choice on mobile phones, sending letters inquiring into Apple’s recent decision to reject Google Voice applications on its iPhone.

The FCC’s letter asked Apple to detail any influence AT&T, the iPhone’s exclusive US carrier, may have had in its decision. Google’s applications would have allowed users to make less expensive international calls.

Apple’s decision, reported this week, set off a firestorm of protest and speculation that AT&T was acting from behind the curtain.

The letters, posted on the FCC’s website and sent to all three companies, also asks for information on consumers’ other alternatives to calling via AT&T, including voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services. Apple has limited VoIP provider Skype use on the iPhone to WiFi hotspots.

The US regulator was also looking to determine whether Google Voice applications for BlackBerry work on AT&T networks, and if so why buyers of those handsets would be treated differently than those of the iPhone.

In response to the inquiry, AT&T said it does not ”manage or approve” applications in the iPhone store. Google said it would turn over the requested information. Apple declined to comment.

The FCC said it was looking into the matter because of its continuing investigation of two other issues, including whether the exclusive deals between handset makers and telecommunications companies improperly keep more desirable phones away from much of the population.

“The Federal Communications Commission has a mission to foster a competitive wireless marketplace, protect and empower consumers, and promote innovation and investment,” FCC Chair Jules Genachowski said in a statement. “The Wireless Bureau’s inquiry letters to these companies about their practices reflect the Commission’s proactive approach to getting the facts and data necessary to make the best policy decisions on behalf of the American people.”

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