Google Voice Would Not, Could Not Connect to Rural Users

Rural cell phone users are used to mocking the Verizon Wireless ads with the guy who constantly asks, “Can you hear me now?” ¬†I would love to meet that guy and say, “NO, not if you live in the country we can’t here you now, yesterday or tomorrow!”

It’s like that dang Green Eggs and Sam character.

I would not, could not, in a box.
I could not, would not, with a fox.

Well, apparently the whiz kids in the Silicon Valley have been doing market research by reading Dr. Seuss.  The Fargo Forum political blog reports:

The country’s oldest telephone company, AT&T, claims Internet search giant Google’s new telephone service violates federal law by blocking some calls to rural Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa.

Google counters that all it is trying to do is avoid some specific overly expensive rural telephone numbers.

Federal officials will be left to settle the dispute. But Google’s call blocking has raised the ire of many rural folks.

At this point the Google Voice argument seems to be a bit of a He said-She said argument. ¬†Google’s marketing is Sam, trying to sell us on their latest gee-whiz toy ¬†in the well-worn role of high-tech underdog. ¬†The Google back office seems to play the part of, well, the other guy.

“The reason Google is blocking service appears to be related to the increased costs involved with providing this service to these areas,” Lake County (Minn.) Commissioner Thomas Clifford wrote to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. “Yet, the consequence of this action puts us at a distinct disadvantage when our residents do not have access to the best communications tools and latest technology available elsewhere.”

Dan Johanneck of the Crookston Housing and Economic Development Authority added his voice: “Apparently, rural voices need not apply for Google Voice.”

Google’s new service, still being tested and not available to everyone, provides users with ways to manage telephone calls, including free long distance service.

“You can place free calls to any U.S. number,” a Google Web video tutorial promises.

Google spokesman Dan Martin has a different story: “Our intention is to block certain numbers.”

The Forum did some investigating in areas that have been in dispute.

A test to three Detroit Lakes, Minn., numbers was representative of what is happening.

When Google Voice was used to call U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson’s campaign office, it would not connect. The same happened when the office’s fax machine was called.

However, a Google Voice call to the Detroit Lakes Newspapers went through without a hitch.

Martin could not explain why a congressional campaign office’s number was blocked (and Peterson has received no complaints).

Neither Google nor AT&T could give an idea about how many numbers were blocked.

Do you remember when newspapers used to do this stuff?  Investigative reporting I believe it was called?  Back when we ponied up our nickels for the afternoon newsprint.

It would be easy for me to posit partisan theories about why Collin Peterson’s on the hit-list, but frankly I ignored this topic when it made it’s first round thru Twitter. ¬†Generally I’m a big Google fan (in an Anybody-but-Microsoft kinda way). ¬†In this case,¬†I’m just not likely to take the Google Voice plunge any time soon even if I had a coveted “invite”. ¬†I doubt I know anybody who is likely to take the Google Voice plunge any time soon. ¬†I can’t even get an iPhone out here (see, I knew I could get this back focused to my complaining about wireless service in rural areas).

Many folks I follow who should know better are complaining about Net Neutrality‚ÄĒthe idea that everyone should be treated the same by broadband providers. ¬†They (and I in general) don’t like the government telling them what to do. ¬†Really, there’s no good reason a private firm like Google should be told what service they can and can’t provide. ¬†Really.

The Commerce Clause

I hate to say that, because it means I really shouldn’t be complaining about Google Voice giving my friends and neighbors a big fat raspberry. ¬†So what if they don’t find it profitable to provide a technology service in rural America? ¬†The Constitution as generally interpreted prohibits restraint on interstate trade; nowhere does the Constitution mandate that any trade be offered in any state or none at all.

If the market worked like it’s supposed to, Google would be punished because their service doesn’t provide a level of service (access to all landline and wireless telephone numbers) to which we have become¬†accustomed. ¬†Consumers would rebel at inferior products and send them back to the drawing board.

But deep in our hearts, rural communities often are deeply suspicious of the deep pockets of corporate interests, from the grain cartels of the 19th century to the financial¬†shenanigans¬†of 21st century Wall Street. ¬†Corporate America doesn’t care about us. ¬†So we appeal to better nature of our fellow citizens. ¬†We are one nation, from the forest of Maine to the deserts of Arizona, and as such there are some things we expect to be provided without discrimination.

Net neutrality and broadband connectivity come to mind here. ¬†No, I don’t want to ask Washington or St. Paul for anything more than absolutely necessary. ¬†However, if we want to keep America strong, we need to build the infrastructure that keeps all Americans strong into the next century.

And I would eat that anywhere, Sam-I-am.

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