Google Lets Most Rural Calls Go Through

Google says its new telephone service now reaches nearly everywhere, after some rural lawmakers and telephone giant AT&T complained that it blocked calls to rural America.

In paperwork filed with the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday, Google said that fewer than 100 U.S. telephone numbers are off limits to Google Voice.

Earlier this month, AT&T and some lawmakers charged Google with ignoring rural Americans when it blocked numbers in small towns. Google said that the cost of reaching some lines was prohibitive for its free service.

Google never said how many numbers it blocked, but on Wednesday reported it has refined its technology enough to allow blockage of only a few specific numbers.

The numbers that remain blocked are those where local phone companies "charge unusually high rates," Google’s letter to the FCC said. In some cases, Google Voice would have to pay 39 cents per minute.

The company that made its name with an Internet search engine said that most of the high-priced lines go to adult chat or conference call services headquartered in rural areas.

Google reported that it started seeing some high charges in June, but only in a few rural areas.

"We have found that calls to a relatively small number of telephone numbers generate vastly disproportionate costs," Google’s FCC letter said.

Rural leaders complained about the blocked calls, and a Minnesota House committee chairman threatened to investigate if Google did not change its practice.

"Google is out of line for stepping on the little guy," Minnesota state Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, wrote earlier this month.

Some rural members of Congress also wrote a letter demanding that Google change.

Many who complained about Google Voice’s number blocking thought no rural numbers could be reached, but that never was the case. Among the numbers Google blocked was the campaign office for U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

Google Voice is a free service that it says provides several improvements over regular telephone services. For instance, the telephone number Google provides a customer can ring home, office and mobile telephones, or any combination of them.

While federal rules require telephone companies to provide service to every number, Google says it is not a regular telephone service since it requires users to have telephones from traditional phone companies.

AT&T spokesman Tom Hopkins said his company was reviewing the Google letter Wednesday night. AT&T wrote a letter to the FCC demanding an investigation.