FCC Wades Deeper into Apple Apps Controversy

Last month, prompted by four US Senators, the US FCC began an investigation into carrier-handset exclusivity in the US. The focus is on the iPhone's relationship with AT&T. All that got kicked up a notch with the recent rejection of Google Voice on the iPhone (following the similar rejection of the Latitude app). Now, as you've probably already read, the FCC is asking questions of Apple, AT&T and Google to determine why Google Voice was rejected as an app and whether there are anti-competitive motivations at play.

Here are copies of the letters to the three entitities (courtsey CNN Money):

Here are the questions (verbatim) that the FCC is asking Apple:

  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 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?

The iPhone app approval process is increasingly being regarded as capriciuous. As question four above implies: why should Apple have approved Skype or Truphone but not Google Voice? (People also don't remember that Voice Central allows one to use Google Voice on the iPhone today.)

A Google Voice app currently exists for Android and BlackBerry and will presumably be coming to other smartphone platforms. 

Until these questions are answered we won't know whether Apple or AT&T or both are ultimately responsible for the rejection and what the precise motivations are. Questions five and six may be somewhat overbroad, but the fact that the FCC is doing this is probably good for the market.