AT&T vs. Google: Does net neutrality cross industry lines?

So what does it mean to be a telecom service provider, or more specifically, and in the most legalistic terms possible, a “carrier?”

That’s the question in the latest tiff between AT&T and Google, with AT&T calling the Google Voice service to task with the FCC because although the service routes and forwards calls it also chooses to block some higher-cost calls, such as calls to certain rural communities. That violates the principles of net neutrality, AT&T claims. Google countered by saying it’s not a network service provider at all, but a software application, and thus not covered by net neutrality.

This all comes as the FCC is aiming to broaden the concepts of net neutrality to cover not only wireline providers but wireless operators as well.

The question here is just how broadly is the FCC ready to define “net neutrality?”Is it based on niggling interpretations of rules and statutes? Or on an over-riding philosophy of what’s fair?

If the latter, is it “fair” for telecom competitors to cream-skim profitable customer bases — even if the service is free and doesn’t look and feel like a traditional network-based service?

The real danger here, and the reason that incumbent telecom operators fight the regulatory battle so stridently, is that their business is under attack not just from traditional rivals but from altogether new concepts and approaches that don’t play by the rules.

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