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AT&T denies squelching Google Voice for iPhone

Apple's carrier partner says it "had no role" in the approval process for Google Voice, while Apple says it's actually still "reviewing" the application.

Updated at 3 p.m. PDT with additional information and background.

AT&T told federal regulators on Friday that it played no part in Apple's decision to keep the Google Voice application from the App Store, while Apple said it never actually rejected the application.

In response to inquiries from the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T's Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs, told the agency, "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."

Google Voice, which allows users to receive calls placed to a single telephone number in multiple places and make cheap international calls, was deemed unfit for App Store inclusion in July, after it was released for BlackBerry and Android smartphones. Several days after the story broke, the FCC requested that AT&T, Apple, and Google all comment on what led to the exclusion of Google Voice.

Apple, for its part, claimed that the application was never actually rejected. "Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application and continues to study it. The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone's distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone's core mobile-telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging, and voice mail," Apple said in a statement.

Google also filed a letter in response to the FCC inquiry but redacted a significant portion of that letter when releasing it to the media. A PDF copy can be found here.

Suspicion immediately fell upon AT&T after the Google Voice application did not make it through the approval process, based on the fact that the application lets users bypass hefty rates on international calls. AT&T has also been believed to be behind the delay or rejection of several other applications that could have placed a strain on its network, such as Sling Media's SlingPlayer Mobile application.

But AT&T said it has little influence over the approval process.

"AT&T was not asked about the matter by Apple at any time, nor did we offer any view one way or the other. More broadly, AT&T does not own, operate, or control the Apple App Store, and is not typically consulted regarding the approval or rejection of applications for the App Store, or informed when an application is approved or rejected," Cicconi said in the letter, a PDF copy of which can be found here.

Still, Apple said it's not like AT&T is an innocent bystander.

"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 (voice over Internet Protocol) 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," Apple said in its statement.

Skype, perhaps the most well-known VoIP service, seized upon part of AT&T's letter that promised a review of policies regarding VoIP apps running on 3G network as a hopeful sign that Skype would soon be allowed to work on cellular networks.

"We welcome AT&T's willingness to take a fresh look at authorizing VoIP capabilities on the iPhone over AT&T's 3G network," Skype said in a statement e-mailed to reporters. "Skype hopes this is a step forward in enabling consumers to be able to use Skype together with their iPhones and 3G connections and looks forward to hearing more about any potential change to AT&T's policy, in connection with the pending FCC proceeding related to the Skype petition."

As for Google's part, its decision to redact a key portion of its letter to the FCC will raise many eyebrows. The company asked the FCC to redact its part of its answer to the FCC's because "the redaction information relates specifically to private business discussions between Apple and Google and, as such, it constitutes commercial data 'which would customarily be guarded from competitors'...The Internet service industry is highly competitive, and the redacted material relates to business and operations of Google, warranting protection from disclosure under the commission's rules," Google said in a letter to the FCC asking for confidential treatment.