Is the FCC's More Proactive Stance Cause for Cheer or Concern?

Includes: AAPL, GOOG, T
by: Larry Dignan

The Federal Communications Commission is being way progressive. Just days after Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) shot down Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Voice related apps, the FCC pounced with a bevy of questions for Apple, AT&T (NYSE:T) and Google.

The FCC sent letters to all parties involved seeking information. For Apple, the FCC wants to know the process behind the company’s rejection of Google Voice apps. It also wants to know whether Apple acted alone or consulted with AT&T. The FCC also wants to delve into AT&T’s say in Apple app approval, customer usage limits and other details. The FCC also wants to know the Apple app approval process from the Google perspective.

It’s unheard of for the FCC to move this quickly. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is a techie and a Silicon Valley veteran. It shows. The Apple-AT&T-Google Voice flap was barely a few days old before the FCC pounced.

Should we be cheering or worried?

On the cheering side of the ledger, the FCC will turn up some answers on the topic. My hunch is that the FCC will find a Google-Apple rift. AT&T wasn’t shy about getting its point of view out there. The company, which has been the designated whipping boy during the early days of this saga, said in a statement:

AT&T does not manage or approve applications for the App Store. We have received the letter and will, of course, respond to it.

So what happened? We don’t know yet, but the usually secretive Apple can’t be happy with the intrusion. If the FCC only sheds light on the app approval process, it will be a worthwhile effort.

But then there’s the other side of the equation. The one that can make you squirm. The FCC is looking into everything from app approval to exclusive deals between carriers and device makers. At some point, the FCC meddles in free markets. It will micromanage. For now, the FCC’s moves require a wait-and-see approach, but it’s clear there’s a new sheriff in town and he isn’t going to be shy about probing all aspects of the wireless business. Stay tuned to see how this turns out.