Apple’s App Store shenanigans are starting to get seriuz. According to the WSJ, the FCC is investigating Apple’s rejection of Google Voice and the subsequent banishment of GV Mobile, a third party application that used Google’s Voice network. They issued a request(PDF) that Apple explain the circumstances behind the removal/rejections and whether or not AT&T had any impact on the decision.
Apple has three weeks to answer the request (pasted below). In a statement Friday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the FCC "has a mission to foster a competitive wireless marketplace, protect and empower consumers, and promote innovation and investment." The inquiry letters "reflect the Commission’s proactive approach to getting the facts and data necessary to make the best policy decisions."
The FCC also petitioned AT&T and Google for information on the matter. Apple declined to comment, Google had this to say:
"Apple did not approve the Google Voice application we submitted six weeks ago to the Apple App Store. We will continue to work to bring our services to iPhone users, for example by taking advantage of advances in mobile browsers. We will supply the information that the Commission has requested."
In response to the inquiry, AT&T said it does not ”manage or approve” applications in the iPhone store. That’s what the FCC intends to find out.
This investigation comes as a growing number of influential people are growing concerned with the App Store and Apple’s policies. Just this week, TechCrunch CEO Michael Arrington and Panic Software developer Steven Frank dropped their iPhones because of the Google Voice issue. This adds to the growing legions of reporters upset with AT&T’s dismal service.
While this investigation is far from leading to any government action, it does stoke the flames of injustice that many of us Apple fans are feeling right now. We hope that whatever or whomever (AT&T) is persuading Apple to take these actions relents on the grounds that the poor publicity outstrips any competitive advantage they hope to achieve by playing unfairly.
RE: Google Voice and related iPhone applications
Dear Ms. Novelli:
Recent press reports indicate that Apple has declined to approve the Google Voice application for the iPhone and has removed related (and previously approved) third-party applications from the iPhone App Store.1 In light of pending FCC proceedings regarding wireless open access (RM-11361) and handset exclusivity (RM-11497), we are interested in a more complete understanding of this situation.
To that end, please provide answers to the following questions by close of business on Friday, August 21, 2009.
1. Why did Apple reject the Google Voice application for iPhone and remove related third-party applications from its App Store? In addition to Google Voice, which related third-party applications were removed or have been rejected? Please provide the specific name of each application and the contact information for the developer.
2. Did Apple act alone, or in consultation with AT&T, in deciding to reject the Google Voice application and related applications? If the latter, please describe the communications between Apple and AT&T in connection with the decision to reject Google Voice. Are there any contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T that affected Apple’s decision in this matter?
3. Does AT&T have any role in the approval of iPhone applications generally (or in certain cases)? If so, under what circumstances, and what
1 See, e.g., Jenna Wortham, “Even Google is Blocked With Apps for iPhone,” New York Times, July 28, 2009.
role does it play? What roles are specified in the contractual provisions between Apple and AT&T (or any non-contractual understandings) regarding the consideration of particular iPhone applications?
4. Please explain any differences between the Google Voice iPhone application and any Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications that Apple has approved for the iPhone. Are any of the approved VoIP applications allowed to operate on AT&T’s 3G network?
5. What other applications have been rejected for use on the iPhone and for what reasons? Is there a list of prohibited applications or of categories of applications that is provided to potential vendors/developers? If so, is this posted on the iTunes website or otherwise disclosed to consumers?
6. What are the standards for considering and approving iPhone applications? What is the approval process for such applications (timing, reasons for rejection, appeal process, etc.)? What is the percentage of applications that are rejected? What are the major reasons for rejecting an application?
Request for Confidential Treatment. If Apple requests that any information or documents responsive to this letter be treated in a confidential manner, it shall submit, along with all responsive information and documents, a statement in accordance with section 0.459 of the Commission’s rules. 47 C.F.R. § 0.459. Requests for confidential treatment must comply with the requirements of section 0.459, including the standards of specificity mandated by section 0.459(b). Accordingly, “blanket” requests for confidentiality of a large set of documents are unacceptable. Pursuant to section 0.459(c), the Bureau will not consider requests that do not comply with the requirements of section 0.459.
Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation. Sincerely,
James D. Schlichting Acting Chief Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Federal Communications Commission