AT&T's Ridiculous Argument Against Google Voice

from the break-it-down dept

We've been covering the ridiculous attempt by AT&T to sic the FCC on Google for deciding to block certain calls via Google Voice. AT&T is being misleading and incredibly disingenuous. While there are some issues with Google's decision to block certain calls, the issue there has nothing to do with net neutrality -- as AT&T aims to tweak Google for supporting net neutrality -- and everything to do with bad regulations -- which AT&T is just as against as Google is.

But the latest letter/PR play from AT&T sinks to ridiculous lows -- and it's a shame that no reporter I've seen so far calls AT&T on any of the crazy claims. While there's some fun in mocking the use of nuns (who are apparently also blocked), AT&T's "slippery slope" argument isn't just questionable, it's wrong:
Indeed, if the Commission cannot stop Google from blocking disfavored telephone calls as Google contends, then how could the Commission ever stop Google from also blocking disfavored websites from appearing in the results of its search engine; or prohibit Google from blocking access to applications that compete with its own email, text messaging, cloud computing and other services; or otherwise prevent Google from abusing the gatekeeper control it wields over the Internet?
But... uh... that's the thing. The FCC cannot stop Google from also blocking disfavored websites from appearing in its results. That's because Google has every right to determine what sites appear in its index and which don't -- and the courts have said exactly that in the past. Google's rankings and site index are Google's own opinion, and there's no legal right for Google to include anyone if it chooses not to. Google knows this. The FCC knows this. AT&T certainly knows this -- so why is it pretending that this is some big issue?

Then there's the claim about Google "blocking access to applications that compete with its own email, text messaging, cloud computing and other services." Except... Google physically cannot block such things, because Google is not the pipe. If I want to go to another email service provider, I just type that URL into my address bar, and Google isn't a party to that at all. The only one who could block such a thing is (oops) my ISP: AT&T. So why even make this argument? It's totally nonsensical.

Obviously, AT&T is having fun poking at Google over this particular issue, but, honestly it should at least limit its complaints to things that actually make sense.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 6:50am

    "But... uh... that's the thing. The FCC cannot stop Google..."

    But... uh... it can and does stop AT&T from doing a variety of things and to pretend that Goolgle would then compete on equal terms with AT&T is just silly.

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 6:57am

      Re:

      Hmm, I'm a tad confused as to what you mean by your comment. Couple 'o questions you might be able to clear up:

      1. What does Goodle stop AT&T from doing? And I don't mean stop them from doing THROUGH Google, but just flat out stop them, which seemed to be what you were saying.

      2. Where does Google compete on equal terms with AT&T? Even, from what I read, Google voice wouldn't be on par with the myriad of telecom options offered through AT&T.

      Or did I just not understand what you were saying? FYI, I should also mention that I cannot get to the two linked articles at work, so maybe I missed something...

       

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        Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 7:14am

        Re: Re:

        1) AC meant the FCC blocking AT&T from doing things

        2) From what I can understand, Google Voice doesn't compete with AT&T at all. They offer a service that sits on top of AT&T. The phone service is still required.

        While I don't think that Google should be allowed to block offending phone numbers, the argument given by AT&T is asinine. Google voice is just a service and a user can just switch to their regular phone service, just like Google search is a service and anyone can switch to Yahoo or Bing.

        If Google wants to make their service less valuable they are perfectly welcome to. Their service is so much easier to switch away from than any phone company.

         

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          Designerfx (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 7:26am

          Re: Re: Re:

          eh, it depends on how you look at the whole thing. what google does is not competitive with AT&T, as google is not providing a cellphone service. They simply take away the parts that are at&t's cash cow and give them away for free as they don't truly cost anything.

          a: text messaging (as it's just data, and google has paid for their pipes, thus the only cost is server cost)

          b: number portability - your number with google can be used for any provider

          This lets you game any sort of myfaves/alist/friends and family since all your calls come in off the number. Saves a lot of money but really it's just using the available tools which the providers give. Dropped my bill from $98 to $66 for example.

          Basically AT&T is summed up as "whine whine, we want to keep milking our customers - stop making us actually put in effort/stop milking them"

          Google blocking is probably just because they get charged by the free conference folks. I think if they weren't charged, they'd probably not have an issue blocking it.

           

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          Kazi, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 7:31am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Google's service is more valuable than the phone company's. You can always switch your phone serivce company. You don't have another company that provides the superior services that google does with the phone voicemail, text messaging, and contact list that is the same for all google services.

           

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            Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 7:45am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Please, in the name of all that is good and logical, tell me you're joking.

            It's like saying Techdirt has a monopoly on news because you can't get a better service elsewhere. And "good", "better", "Best" are all relative terms. Some people may think that AT&T's services are better.

             

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              Kazi, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:04am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Techdirt has a monopoly on the news I access because I don't know of a better "news service" that provides the unique experience that TechDirt provides, thus I prefer TechDirt.

              Google Voice has also a unique experience because noone provides a similar service and probably won't in the near future.

               

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              •  
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                Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:13am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                "Techdirt has a monopoly on the news I access because I don't know of a better "news service" that provides the unique experience that TechDirt provides, thus I prefer TechDirt."

                The level of your logic FAIL astounds even I, and I have seen some whoppers here...

                 

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                •  
                  identicon
                  Kazi, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:18am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Your FAIL of my FAIL is a major FAIL.

                  Explain why it's a fail so maybe I can change my perspective otherwise you fail becasue all you said is a 4 letter word that has little meaning.

                   

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                    Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:26am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    Happy to. Let's examine what you said:

                    "Techdirt has a monopoly on the news I access because I don't know of a better "news service" that provides the unique experience that TechDirt provides, thus I prefer TechDirt."

                    You equated your constant preference for TechDirt as your sole news source with it having a monopoly on the news you access. For reference, the 1st (most common) definition of a monopoly according to dictionary.com is:

                    1. exclusive control of a commodity or service in a particular market, or a control that makes possible the manipulation of prices.

                    TechDirt has no exclusive control of the commodity/service of providing news to you in ANY market (including tech), nor do they have a level of control of the news marketplace to control total market pricing, as evidenced by Mike's constant jabs at assclown's like Murdoch who want to put up a paywall.

                    It's a matter of control: in a monopoly, control resides with the (usually single) provider, in your example control over access to content is completely in your control and you have other options which you just may not prefer.

                    How's that?

                     

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                      Kazi, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:31am

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                      Ok - statement poorly worder. Now, how about the idea? It looks like phone companies don't have monopolies because there are multiple companies in different regions that offer different levels of service for different prices.

                      I'll agree to the argument that they should be regulated because in certain geographical regions because they are the sole service providers. Where as Google isn't geography specific (The beauty of the internet). That's what people leave out.

                       

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                        Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:49am

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                        I want to add one thing to what you said.

                        Due to our laws in the US, it's almost impossible to start a new phone company. Thus, it's unlikely that anyone can come along to compete with those currently in place.

                        The only limitation to competing with Google is coding skills and hardware requirements.

                         

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                          Kazi, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:57am

                          Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                          Wow @ it being almost impossible to start a new phone company :(

                          It's hard to believe but I wouldn't be surpirsed if it is true.

                           

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                            Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 9:56am

                            Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                            Let me see you try it, I bet the regulatory hurdle would stop you dead in your tracks.

                             

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                          Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 9:56am

                          Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                          That's the main difference. In the U.S. it's the government granting the monopoly over phone companies and cable companies and such, it's the government limiting the competition. So of course the existing status quo can exploit the public out of every ounce of consumer surplus and convert it to producer surplus at public expense. In the case of blogs you are free to start your own blog and compete, same with search engines. That's the difference.

                          The solution? Either disbar the FCC or force them to serve public interests instead of just private interests at public expense. But of course the FCC is composed of unelected officials who are not held accountable for their actions so they get to serve only private interests and get away with it.

                           

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                Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:14am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                To play devils advocate, you must have logical responses. Unless you're playing village idiot, then your irony is lost on us and you should work on that.

                 

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                •  
                  identicon
                  Kazi, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:32am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Oooga boogaaaa. Big stick!

                  *whacks chrono*
                  *whacks chrono*

                  Ooooggaa!

                   

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                  identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 9:27am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  "...then your irony is lost on us..."
                  Presuming to speak for more than just your self - obviously a Masnick clone.

                   

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                    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 9:30am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    Look at the other comments, if Kazi is joking, then yes there is more than one person confused so an "us" is valid.

                     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 6:58am

      Re:

      As the Mike points out, apples & oranges.

      AT&T is making an argument based on net neutrality, which is what's silly. Google is not a gatekeeper. If Google doesn't list a site in their search results, it isn't blocking anyone from visiting that site. AT&T is a gatekeeper. They can literally control which sites you can see and which you can't.

       

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        Kazi, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 7:21am

        Re: Re:

        Can't say that google is not a gatekeeper because they are a search engine. Therefore, they are a gatekeeper and you might even see FCC regulations in regards to search engines ... they tie information together which is important.

        What you can say google is not a specific type of gatekeeper - one that provides access to the internet from a home. They provide access to numerous services though

        AT&T has a point but they just don't know how to word it. Their main concern is: Why in the world is the FCC regulating us when we, like Google, provide accesss to information thus both act as gatekeepers.

         

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          Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 7:34am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Google is as much a gate keeper as Techdirt is. I don't get my internet connection threw Google and I have several other options to find the things I want to find. There are quite a few other search engines out there, there are websites with links to things, there are things like Stumbleapon, and I can even type the address in directly. Google controls nothing.

          Let me repeat that last part: Google controls nothing. AT&T controls how I get to the phone network or how I get online and can control where I go. Google can do none of that.

           

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            identicon
            Kazi, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:13am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            If you control nothing then you have nothing because you aren't controlling anything.

            Google controls something because people use it. Saying "Google control nothing" is extremely ignorant. I bet they control servers, no?

            Furthermore, using the concept you applied also applies to internet service providers. They control nothing as they can lose or gain customers based on how much they want to control their customers.

            The reality is is that other services are jealous of Google because Google, like TechDirt, develops a community and builds on that community. The phone and internet services are more of barbarians looking for cities to pillage and loot.

            Furthermore, you can't say that the internet would not function without AT&T becasue there are alternatives. That's equivalent of saying the internet would not function without Google, because Google is the only search provider - which is not true with regards to ISP's and Search Engines. You don't need either for the internet to function correctly.

             

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              PaulT (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:29am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Huh?

              "Google controls something because people use it. Saying "Google control nothing" is extremely ignorant. I bet they control servers, no?"

              People have the same access to competitors as they do to Google. You can type "yahoo.com" as easily as typing "google.com", and there's nothing Google can do to stop you from using Yahoo. No matter how many servers they own, that will always be the case. They control nothing, because unless you've made yourself dependant on GMail or other services, they can't tie you into anything.

              On the other hand, AT&T can quite easily prevent you from visiting, say, Verizon's website. There are situations where you have no choice but to use them, even if you don't like that fact. That's control.

              "They control nothing as they can lose or gain customers based on how much they want to control their customers."

              You assume that people have a clear and equal choice. Many areas have only one or two ISPs available, and those in more rural areas don't have any choice when it comes to broadband. If you need broadband and AT&T is your only available supplier, their actions don't result in loss of custom. Even if you have a choice, the pain of cancelling the AT&T contract and getting the competitor installed makes many think twice. There is no overhead involved in switching from Google to another search provider.

               

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          AC's long lost brother, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 7:39am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Kazi, no you won't. The FCC has no AUTHORITY over search engines. The content side of the internet is not, and should not be under the FCC's control. If someone thinks Google is anticompetetive or a 'monopoly' then the FTC would have to weigh in. (and they have on more than one occasion)

          Google is not a gatekeeper in that you are perfectly free to use ANY search engine (Yahoo, Bing, Uncle Billy's Bad Ass Search) for your web searching pleasure. Also, google does not stop you from going anywhere. You are free to type in ANY url in your browser and voila, there it is.

           

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            Kazi, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:03am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            You are perfectly free to use AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Comcast, or any other serivce to access services accessible and discoverable through them. You are not stuck with using one service such as AT&T to access your internet.

            Equally, you can use Yahoo, Altavista, Google, Ask Jeeves, Bing, search.com, or any other service to access services accessible and discoverable through them. You are not stuck with using one service such as Google to access your internet.

            I think that's the point, if worded correctly, that they are trying to make. basically, AT&T is trying to say "Why are you regulating only me when conceptually we provide very similar to Google". In other words, they seem to be asking for equal treatment by the government.

             

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              John Fenderson (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:15am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              I don't know about your part of the country, but around here you have one choice for broadbant internet access: Comcast. Even so, if you use the telephone (cell or otherwise) or the internet in the US then the odds are overwhelming that your data will go through AT&T lines -- and if it's not AT&T, then it's one of two other megacorps -- and there AT&T can block, delay or spy on everything. That's being a real gatekeeper, and deserving of regulation.

              AT&T is being regulated by the FCC because they operate a public resource: the government-granted monopolies that makeup telephone and cable television, and the use of publicly-owned airwaves. That's what makes them a gatekeeper.

              Google does none of those thing. When they do, the FCC will certainly regulate them just as much.

               

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          How Silly, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:56am

          Re: Re: Re:

          So any website that provides "access to information" i.e. has data, images, text that can be read is a gatekeeper?

           

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        Derek Kerton (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 9:46am

        Re: Re:

        Spot on. Within the term "network neutrality" we can see the main element that is germane to ANY accusation of someone exercising excess market control: NETWORK.

        You see, it is only the NETWORK provider that could every, in any way, go against the principles of Net Neutrality. If you provide a network, you can either be neutral towards the content, data, and services that flow across your network, or you can prioritize and prefer certain vendors, sources, or types of data.

        Google is not a network provider. Thus Google is entirely incapable of going against Network Neutrality.

        That said, Google has a lot of influence, and can wield that in an overbearing manner. If they do so, one would hope the market would respond, and switch to a search engine which was more open. Switching costs are terribly low, barriers to entry for competitors are almost non-existent.

        From a product evaluation standpoint, Google shouldn't block those FreeConference phone numbers. Either you can connect all my phone calls, or you can't. As a customer, I a disappointed, and I'll look for a voice calling solution elsewhere...maybe even AT&T.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 10:01am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Google has a lot of influence, and can wield that in an overbearing manner. If they do so, one would hope the market would respond, and switch to a search engine which was more open. Switching costs are terribly low, barriers to entry for competitors are almost non-existent."

          and this is the main thing that currently exists in the case of search engines that doesn't exist in the case of telcos. The FCC/government exist for one sole purpose, to serve corporate interests at public expense, and that needs to change. We need to remove the legal barrier that makes it difficult for anyone to start their own cableco/telco company.

           

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        Jim (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 10:52am

        You get it

        Wouldn't it be great to see Google take AT&T out of their index?

        I know so many people that would go to Google, type in at t and then go to their page. I bet they get more than half of their traffic from Google, they might want to be careful.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 7:20am

    It's also fun to think that iPhone (AT&T's at least) has an explicit constraint in the App Store against "applications that compete with its own", so they apparently have no problem when it's their partners doing it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 7:21am

    Mike, please check your stats. It isn't unusual to see people who have searched google for your site name, or even type "techdirt.com" into the google search. Your personal experience as an intelligent human is in no way on par with the large and wide universe of "morons in a hurry" that confuse the google search box for the address bar.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 7:57am

      Re:

      What is with you trolls? Back in my day we few trolls and they tricked a few of a the kiddies and we all had a jolly good laugh. But if you are showing up as Anonymous we can't know if you are serious or not! Just stop!

       

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    Overcast (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 7:54am

    Indeed, if the Commission cannot stop Google from blocking disfavored telephone calls as Google contends, then how could the Commission ever stop Google from also blocking disfavored websites from appearing in the results of its search engine; or prohibit Google from blocking access to applications that compete with its own email, text messaging, cloud computing and other services; or otherwise prevent Google from abusing the gatekeeper control it wields over the Internet?

    Umm, the free market can easily stop such things when people stop using the service.

    What is it with these companies and organizations today that act like they have some 'entitlement' to be in business?

    Too big to fail? What a deception - if they do business in a manner that's full of fail - they should fail.

     

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    Viktor, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:01am

    It's hypocritical from AT&T to whine about stopping Google from disfavoring certain applications or sites. AT&T is the one who is locking out their customers to limit what applications can be used and protocols such as voip (see your contract for mode details) very slick! Hopefully such claims will eventually backfire on them and the rest of the wireless phone service providers. Quoting "then how could the Commission ever stop Google from also blocking disfavored websites from appearing in the results of its search engine; or prohibit Google from blocking access to applications that compete with its own email, text messaging"

     

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    Cheese McBeese, Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:15am

    Oh Brother...

    Sooo many people don't understand Google voice.

    There is no 'voice' in Google Voice. No landline, mobile, or VoIP service. Google does not offer a telecom solution (at least not yet) and does not take a single call away from the telecom operators, be they the traditional carriers or the new VoIP operators.

    So why do the carriers, at&t included, hate Google Voice? Because Google Voice weakens the relationship that the carriers have with the end-user. Google inserts themselves into the eco-system at the application level, formerly known as the walled garden. Apple did it first with the iPhone app store, and now Google is doing it with a call management application. It pushes the carriers closer to the role of pipe provider (only).

    My personal opinion is that the Carriers will never be able to compete at the application level. They don't have the right mindset, nor do they enjoy the network independence that their up and coming application competitors will leverage. If it were up to me, I'd embrace the new entrants and make it easier for them to deliver unconstrained apps on my network versus my competitors network. I'd also start courting the power companies. The power grids and the telecom networks share a lot of common attributes so there is lots of potential for operational synergy.

     

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    sondun2001 (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 8:37am

    Apples vs Oranges

    AT&T is comparing Google to a service provider, it is not. Google has the right to determine what shows up in its search results to give the consumer the best quality listings. It doesn't prevent you from visiting any site, you still have to option to use another search engine, or type in the URL manually. AT&T has the power to block you from visiting a website all together.... Net neutrality doesn't apply to Google, they are not a gatekeeper. That was an ignorant letter, and it will backfire on them!

     

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      Michael Walker, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:07am

      Re: Apples vs Oranges

      I agree with you completely. You are not forced to use Google, but some people may only have AT&T as their ISP provider. They are not the same and should not be compared.

       

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    Josh (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 11:05am

    The way I see it is this. AT&T and the like are gatekeepers and they can stop you, but Google is just the guy standing on the corner giving directions. If he doesn't give you directions, there are lots of others doing the exact same thing.

     

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    PrometheeFeu (profile), Oct 15th, 2009 @ 2:04pm

    Let's see. I typed webmail in google and gmail was the fifth result. Google Map's API specifically directs you towards several geocoding services that directly compete with Google. Googling "Web Browser" you only get Google Chrome as the 5th result again this time with Opera an Firefox higher up. Google "Search Engine" and google is not on the first page. Bing, Yahoo, Altavista and Lycos are. I don't like what google is doing with Google voice but the guy at AT&T is just wrong.

     

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