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Monday, November 02, 2009

AT&T Scared By Google

Google has shown itself to be a competent player in many areas, but not every. Picassa is still a pretty lousy web album, and who hosts web sites at Google? But in some arenas, Google shines, and Google Voice is proving to be one of them.

  • About Google Voice:

    I've been using Google Voice to manage phone routing for a couple weeks now. It is an efficient, high quality and non-nonsense service - exactly what you'd expect from a company who has refused to fill their home page with more than a little - very useful - text box. I use Google's service to route calls for my small business's 800 number to a half-dozen cell phones and land lines where customer service reps answer them.

    Google's transcription service, though useful, is oddly worse than PhoneTag's ... the company they bought. But it is far better than having to listen to every message. An operator can quickly delete dozens of hangups, no-message calls and wrong numbers in a few seconds, rather than listening to every one.

  • The FCC, Google and Traffic Pumping:

    Google has run into some small hiccup with the FCC because it identified that some rural phone companies were "traffic pumping". The FCC allows some rural companies to charge *inbound* callers an "access fee". That means you pay to call numbers in those locations. Small rural phone companies were quick to exploit this ruling, giving a kickback to "free sex lines" and "free teleconferencing services" that set up shop there. Callers are rarely informed that they they are secretly paying up to 25 cents a minute for these services.

    Google Voice blocked these numbers since some companies were buying Google voice accounts and routing calls to sex lines to make money and milk Google for profits. The FCC is probably going to let them do it, and it might open up some room for litigation to get rid of these people who are abusing and ultimately harming rural phone systems.

    The FCC has really screwed up even allowing this to happen. Google's action has called attention to a little known area where all the kickbacks and bribes are likely not something that the well-heeled boys at the FCC really want investigated.

  • AT&T's Response & Weakness:

    You would think the big phone companies would line up behind Google and demand action on this area which costs them money and does them no good. But AT&T's response was to go on the attack and blame Google for not routing calls to a convent and an ambulance service. (Who would use Google voice to route calls to an ambulance service rather than calling the direct number? And exactly what kind of convent receives hundreds of calls per hour? Dial-a-prayer?).

    This is an enormous blunder on AT&T's part. It has revealed, at least to me, that AT&T is either afraid of Google or afraid of someone looking into the FCC's rural access fees. Either way, it's revealing weakness, and my dollar's on AT&T stock price reflecting that weakness in the years to come.

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