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Would Apple and AT&T Cripple a Google Voice iPhone App?

Google Voice, the innovative invite-only telephone communication control service, is readying a iPhone version of its mobile phone app, which just became available on Tuesday for Android OS-based phones and Blackberries.

For instance, Google Voice offers free SMS services that appear to come from one’s Google number rather than one’s mobile phone number. That means users could text all they like, without paying AT&T $20 a month. That money is virtually all profit for the telecom giant, since the messages use almost no bandwidth and even travel on a special channel separate from voice or data.

AT&T and Apple together have blocked video applications that compete with approved ones and forced the low cost phone calling company Skype to disable its most powerful feature – free phone calls using a phone’s data connection – if it wanted to be included in the iPhone marketplace controlled by Apple.

AT&T has said that it expects Apple to block products that compete with its services. It puts the kibosh on some other apps that might be hard on a network – Slingbox’s video application for one, though it is fine with other streaming media apps, like Major League Baseball’s, for one.

Such practices are part of the reason that Congress, public interest groups and the FCC have all been looking skeptically at U.S. mobile carriers, wondering if they need to be regulated more closely.

A Google spokesperson declined to answer specific questions about a potential app, but did say that it was “working with Apple to bring similar functionality [as the Android/Blackberry apps] to iPhone users.”

It’s a shame that each player tries to lock down their part of the puzzle. AT&T (pipes) owns Apple (device+OS) until more U.S. providers join in on the iPhone fun. But Apple too doesn’t play nice when they see competition. Consumer loose.

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