updated 10:25 am EDT, Fri August 21, 2009
FCC Formal Cell Inquiry
The FCC is due to launch formal investigations into cellular industry practices in the next few days that could put Apple and AT&T in the crosshairs, according to the timetable for the government body (registration required). Its August 27th meeting will start multiple inquiries that include questions of competition and whether the industry is holding back technological advancement. The agency's checks are also likely to include questions over the legality of long-term exclusivity for handsets like Apple's deal with AT&T for the iPhone, which has been criticized for artificially limiting carrier choices and triggering network congestion problems.
Fees should also be a concern, including whether many of the service fees are actually necessary. Some critics have noted that fees have often been portrayed as government-related but are often strictly private and often aren't included in the advertised rates, masking the true cost of service.
The FCC's search is expected to unofficially start today, when Apple and AT&T are expected to submit their official, initial responses to questions over the reasons behind the rejection of Google Voice for iPhone from the App Store. Letters from the government have asked the two companies to explain their involvement and help the FCC determine whether Google's client was unfairly excluded from an official release to stifle competition. Google has also been asked but isn't so far required to provide a respondse.
The app's exclusion is suspected as a possible anti-competitive move by Apple, AT&T or both to force customers to use AT&T's cellular minutes and messaging. While VoIP apps like Skype have been excluded from AT&T's 3G network due to bandwidth and latency concerns, Google Voice still relies on the voice network to provide cheap texts and long-distance calls as well as to give inbound callers a single number that will reach all of a Google Voice subscriber's phones. AT&T has denied having any say in the App Store process but is known to have neutered SlingPlayer for iPhone by preventing the finished US version from working over 3G.