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AT&T: We didn’t ask Apple to block Google Voice

AT&T stayed mum for weeks to protect its relationship with Apple, but thanks to prodding from the Federal Communications Commission the company is talking now. The upshot: AT&T didn’t demand that Apple (AAPL) block Google Voice from the iTunes App Store, thus keeping it off of the iPhone. In fact, AT&T says it didn’t even talk to Apple about it before the iPhone maker handed down the decision.

This is the impression I got when I talked to sources close to AT&T (T) after the incident blew up. As I suggested here, Apple probably did the blocking on its own, for fear that Google Voice (GOOG) would take over the iPhone. To my amazement, AT&T refused to talk about the Google Voice controversy on the record, even to clear its name. That’s how much the carrier wants to avoid ticking Apple off.

AT&T’s response to the FCC is a 16-page missive from the desk of legislative affairs chief James Cicconi, which I’ve linked here. There are a few interesting nuggets in it.

For instance, AT&T says it rarely talks to Apple about what apps will be allowed in the store. Exceptions: streaming audio apps from Pandora and AOL, which threatened to cause congestion on AT&T’s 3G network. Apple tweaked its streaming technology to make them less of a burden. They also talked about an app from MobiTV and CBS that streamed video of the NCAA tournament. AT&T, again concerned about 3G network congestion, raised it with Apple, and Apple had MobiTV and CBS modify the app so that the video streaming would work only via WiFi connections. Of course, AT&T and Apple have also talked about voice-over-IP, or Internet telephony apps – the two companies have agreed that Apple won’t approve any VoIP apps that run over AT&T’s network, unless AT&T agrees. (Google Voice does not use VoIP over AT&T’s network.)

So it looks like Apple blocked Google Voice on its own, possibly concerned that Google’s software could take over the iPhone’s core functions. From what I’ve seen of the Google Voice app for Google’s rival Android smartphone platform, Apple’s concerns are founded. The Android app works beautifully, allowing users to place Google Voice calls directly from the phone’s normal dialer. The caller ID of the person receiving the call shows the Google Voice number. It turns phone calling – arguably the primary feature of any phone – into a Google experience.

It will be fun to read Apple’s response to the FCC, which I haven’t seen yet.

UPDATE: Apple’s response to the FCC has just come out, and it’s a doozy. See it here. The gist of it is, Apple claims it hasn’t actually rejected Google Voice; it’s still studying it. It says it rejected the initial version because it duplicates features Apple built itself. Google’s response is also out; read it here.

In case you don’t want to wade through AT&T’s 16-page response to the FCC, below is AT&T’s statement about it.

AT&T Statement on Letter to the FCC Regarding Apple App Store

WASHINGTON, DC – On July 31, 2009, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued letters to Apple, AT&T and Google with a series of questions about the Google Voice app and Apple’s App Store approval process.  AT&T today responded to the questions raised in the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau letter.   The following statement may be attributed to Jim Cicconi, AT&T senior executive vice president, external and legislative affairs:

“We appreciate the opportunity to clear up misconceptions related to an application Google submitted to Apple for inclusion in the Apple App Store.  We fully support the FCC’s goal of getting the facts and data necessary to inform its policymaking.

“To that end, let me state unequivocally, AT&T had no role in any decision by Apple to not accept the Google Voice application for inclusion in the Apple App Store.  AT&T was not asked about the matter by Apple at any time, nor did we offer any view one way or the other.

“AT&T does not block consumers from accessing any lawful website on the Internet.  Consumers can download or launch a multitude of compatible applications directly from the Internet, including Google Voice, through any web-enabled wireless device.  As a result, any AT&T customer may access and use Google Voice on any web-enabled device operating on AT&T’s network, including the iPhone, by launching the application through their web browser, without the need to use the Apple App Store.”