The Federal Communications Commission asked AT&T, Apple and Google to answer some questions on why Apple rejected the Google Voice app. They have done so now with AT&T denying knowledge while Apple claims it is still considering it due to issues of compatibility with its interface. But the interesting bit of their response is this:
There is a provision in Apple’s agreement with AT&T that obligates Apple not to include functionality in any Apple phone that enables a customer to use AT&T’s cellular network service to originate or terminate a VoIP session without obtaining AT&T’s permission. Apple honors this obligation, in addition to respecting AT&T’s customer Terms of Service, which, for example, prohibit an AT&T customer from using AT&T’s cellular service to redirect a TV signal to an iPhone. From time to time, AT&T has expressed concerns regarding network efficiency and potential network congestion associated with certain applications, and Apple takes such concerns into consideration.
Now just so we are clear. VOIP usage is not a network congestion issue. So blocking Skype and the like outside of WiFi is strange. The reason is this: the iPhone has always had YouTube front and centre. That is the bandwidth hog not to mention streaming services such as Pandora. VOIP is nothing compared this. And it is not only AT&T. Australian carriers appear not to allow similar things.
I get the feeling the FCC didn’t ask the right questions. What it wants to know whether the exclusivity deal with AT&T brings with it incentives that modify Apple’s behaviour in terms of the applications it approves. The possibly correct response is that it is nothing to do with exclusivity and is just something imposed by all carriers even where there are no such deals. Alas, we didn’t get an answer because the FCC didn’t get to the issue.