FCC Investigating Google Voice Rejection from Apple's iTunes App Store, AT&T's Involvement


Techcrunch got a hold of a letter sent by the FCC to Apple seeking more information on the rejection of Google's Google Voice app, and removal of third party Google Voice apps already in the iTunes App Store.

Specifically, the Federal Communications Commission wants to know why Apple rejected the apps, and which apps exactly were rejected, whether Apple alone made the decision or whether AT&T played any part, what role -- if any -- AT&T plays in the App Store approval process, what makes Google Voice any different than VoIP apps Apple has already approved, what other apps have been rejected and why, whether or not there's a list of verboten apps and how that list is made available to developers and consumers, and other timing and statistical information concerning the approval process and rejections.

Basically, it reads as a wish list of every question every frustrated developer, consumer, and -- yes -- even blogger has ever wanted Apple to simply, plainly, and consistently answer. There is, however, a proviso for Apple to request confidentiality, which given Apple's penchant for secrecy, likely means we may never see those answers.

Similar letters were sent to Google and AT&T.

Opinions always vary about when and how much government should intrude into business. Some will think never, some will hope always, and we like to think there's a balance in between. App Store rejections currently annoy developers and the more tech-savvy consumers who read blogs and technology columns. Unfortunately, until it breaks the confidence of the average consumer and suffers immediate, painful consequence, Apple likely thinks most users aren't even aware of the issue and it can take its time and follow it's own agenda.

If nothing else, the FCC has just thrown a monkey wrench into that strategy.

[Thanks to everyone who sent this in!]

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

FCC Investigating Google Voice Rejection from Apple's iTunes App Store, AT&T's Involvement


That is funny Rene, I just posted in the forum the very same thing. I would love to know who really made the decision in rejecting GV. I hope the FCC makes their findings public.

I am so glad the FCC is getting involved Apple and AT&T have gone to far this time. They should not be allowed to allow services on other phones and prevent them on the iphone. Things like SlingBox 3G and GV are two of the big ones that should have been allowed but were not because of AT&T. I hope the FCC gives it to them hard as it is the best for consumers. Yeah government for once!!

Hey whether I agree or not on apples aprovals and rejections it's there buisness and no one elses since it's there app store , there product etc. The government always pokeS there nose in where it doesn't belong.And if AT&T has any say it's because apple let's them , i mean come on apple in all reality has AT&T by the balls any way so what apple says agrees or disagrees on comes down to there disgression,. Thanx for listenin every1

Apple (or AT&T, or Google) can request the comments remain private, but that does not mean the FCC has to honor it, though the government typically does.
As much as I hate arbitrary App Store decisions, I doubt the FCC has the jurisdiction to force Apple to change them. The FCC jumped in here because of the allegations regarding AT&T. If AT&T did dictate (or encourage) Apple to drop the GV applications, it could run afoul of regulations regarding open spectrum access. That makes this the FCC's business, but an investigation would be more aimed at AT&T than Apple.
While the FCC could also look into the exlusivity agreement and Apple's handsets, App Store policies themselves do not directly impact national communications interests. As such, as much as I hate Apple's App Store policies, forcing better behavior there seems outside the FCC's purview.

I would rather have had this letter come from the Federal Trade Commission than from the FCC, because much of the (reported) demands were beyond the preview of the FCC.
Apple may tell them, to kiss off, saying the FCC does have any statutory authority to regulate Apple Business other than the approval of devices.
ATT on the other hand probably has some serious 'Splainin to do. [/Ricky Ricardo voice]
So I agree with Fassy, regarding the App store.
On the other hand this may be a "Microsoft Moment" for AT&T. Using their monopoly position as iPhone carrier to enhance their position in other areas (voip, international calling, etc) may just be the thing that brings the regulators down on their heads.
And, I suspect there is a Google spoon stirring this stew somewhere. No proof, just sayin...

I'm sick and tired of AT&T controlling the App Store. Even if it causes traffic, I would still like to be able to use slingplayer over wi-fi.
On an unrelated note, Happy Birthday Rene!

I just wish Apple WANTED to be up front with devs. With so many people relying on App Store income, they owe it to people. As much as I think this is outside the bounds ofthe FCC and government as a whole, it will be cool if these documents leak and we can get some answers.

The word you want is "their", not "there".
We have come to expect adherence to the laws in this country, especially from those businesses using Federally Licensed spectrum.
ATT leaning on Apple is exactly the same as Microsoft leaning on Compaq back in the day. Once ATT picks up federal licenses, and enters into the business of being a regulated interstate carrier the game is changed a great deal from Ma and Pa's Corner store.
Ownership does not give you carte blanche to do anything you want once you take out a business license.
For all we know, Apple may have quietly pulled certain strings to get the FCC to look into this matter. Or maybe Google did. Or maybe congress did.
In any event its way too soon to cry crocodile tears for Apple, since its probably ATT who is in the cross hairs.

The iPhone, nor AT&T force anyone to use an iPhone. There's more choice & competition in the mobile/cell phone market than almost any other market I can imagine.

Apple gets shady at times with the App Store, but a good portion of the things wrong with the iPhone (major apps that get rejected, the absence of tethering and MMS) are because AT&T has a problem with it. If the only thing that comes out of this is AT&T losing some of their power to negatively impact the customer's experience and freedom to use their phone, then I'm happy with that.

Yea I don't like Apple pulling these GV apps out of the AppStore but I also don't enjoy government involvement in the FREE MARKET.

Bosey there has NEVER been a free market in telecommunications.
These are not farmers selling corn out of the back of a pickup at a Saturday market.

An AT&T spokesman repeated his company’s position that all decisions relating to applications for the iPhone are Apple’s and Apple’s alone. “We have received the letter and will of course respond to it. AT&T does not manage or approve applications for the app store,” a spokesman just told me minutes ago, and he otherwise referred me to Apple, who as you know has so far declined to comment.

what does one carrier have anything to do with a "free market." the definition of free market is one that is free from government intrusion. Being one carrier has nothing to do with a free market or not.
Cellular isnt a free market because the FCC (government) does regulate it. BUT that doesnt mean the government can control all aspects either like they are trying to do.

If AT@T and/or Apple are dictating consumer choices choices beyond reasonable technical limitations then the market is not free.
It sounds like the government is really trying to give us choice. That's what it's about, right?

Klmsu19, what on earth contained in the letters that were simply SENT TO THE THREE COMPANIES gave you the impression that government wants to control the situation?
And what leaves you believe that you're not being controlled right now? Apple has you by the balls..they tell you what's good for you and what they will allow you to put on your phone, and they can also remotely kill apps on your phone if they feel like doing so..yup, just like Amazon did with 1984.

I'm not so sure Apple is the target here.
(So could all the fanboys rushing to defend Apple just take a few deep breaths and calm down...?)
I think the FCC is after ATT's ass. It just so happens Apple has the proof. That's why they get the letter.
I suspect it played out something like this:
ATT hears about google voice and, because they don't really understand it) has visions of minute consumption dropping. They envision everyone reducing their plans to the lowest level, and using the iPhone unlimited data to do all their calling.
Lawyers, decide that the exclusive deal they have with Apple forbids any other carrier on the iPhone. Never mind that Google Voice is not a carrier. The lawyers insist it is. They go to Apple and point to the contract and say you gotta stop this.
Apple, protests, but the ATT lawyers threaten to get every other carrier on board. They know they will not get their contract renewed, and have nothing to lose.
Risk averse Apple lawyers cave in.
Att prevails. Apple kills the apps with a sullen, un-apple like "we cant' help you" reply.
Google and perhaps some other App developers, mad as hell and not going to take it any more, start writing their congressmen, who jack up the FCC. Maybe Apple had a quiet hand in that too.

The whole cell phone business needs to be looked into. Whoever said this was a free market is wrong. When you as a consumer are forced to use particular phones, which are connected to ridiculous contracts or you have to pay elaborate prices to buy them is not a free market. I never seen a business that basically you shop around for the phones that is offered and not the deals. And if you decided to shop for a good deal you are stuck in a contract when a better deal comes along later or you have to pay a elaborate fee to be released to go to the better deal, which really means it is not a deal at all. IMO this is about AT&T and the beginning of the end about how cell phone services to do their business and force you to use only what they offer. Just like when the the baby bells years ago were forced to allow other companies to make the phones we use in our house instead of us being forced to rent their own phones.

Was the App rejected in the US app store or worldwide? Worldwide means it is Apple not AT&T (very simple deduction)..
@marbleann: I would rather have the current system, then buy my phones at full price, which by the way you do have that option at anytime... You can't take the cheap price and then bitch about the cost and terms of the contract you knowingly signed...

I have gotten a kick out of all these comments. Apple has a monopoly on the IPhone because they designed it and manufactured it. The IPhone is not the only phone out there. There are plenty of choices in phones and carriers. If you don't like AT&T, Apple or the app store, then use another phone/carrier. Or better yet, don't get a cell phone at all. You can choose to vote with your wallet. It is amazing to talk to people about their phones, like they are a necessity. What did people do 15 years ago when the majority of people did not have a cell phone.
Personally I don't really like the government poking their nose into anything, but it is what it is.