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Last week, it was reported in the NY Times and elsewhere that Google was blocking access to certain phone numbers by its Google Voice phone service. NPR also has a 4-minute discussion of the issue which is fairly informative.
The short version is that the “free conference call” services and certain other cheap or free services available which involve calling some phone number are often based in rural areas where supposedly pro-competition regulation allows carriers to charge high fees for use of their lines. Conference call services funnel thousands of calls through these lines and split the fees with the local phone carriers.
Google has found that people using its service to call those “free” services was costing Google an enormous amount of money and Google has responded by blocking access to those conference call (and apparently some sex chat) numbers.
If I were Google, I’d do just what they’re doing. They have every right to control access to and use of the asset that they’ve spent untold millions of dollars developing. After all, any functioning definition of “private property” must include not only title to the property but the ability to control it, including the ability to exclude certain usage.
What’s interesting is how Google’s action shows its utter hypocrisy in their position on “Net Neutrality", which I’ve written about before. Essentially “Net Neutrality” is a policy that would force AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and other “Internet Service Providers” ("ISP"s), i.e. the companies which have spent billions of their shareholders’ dollars on the Internet “backbone", to allow Google and other “content providers” to use that backbone without any ability for the ISPs to charge more for content which takes a disproportionate share of the ISP’s available bandwidth.
It’s no wonder the NY Times notes that AT&T has not come to the FCC to argue alongside Google on this issue, even though they might have similar interests.
Google’s hypocrisy has been laid bare by their own actions. My guess is that not one single Democrat, particularly on the FCC, will notice. And if they notice, they’ll look the other way, with Google’s quarterly lobbying expenses now having surpassed $1,000,000 for the first time.
[Update: A recent article in The Hill describes pressure mounting on Google. It's interesting because I believe Google is in the right, conceptually, but they deserve to be hung by their own petard when it comes to using government to manipulate and thwart competition.]