If the U.S. Department of Justice is indeed investigating exclusive deals between wireless carriers and handset makers, including the cozy relationship between AT&T and iPhone maker Apple, then Apple's removal of Google Voice applications from its online App Store isn't going to help either company's cause.
Google Voice, which is currently an invitation-only service, lets users route all their calls through a single number and provides free domestic calls, cheaper international calls, and advanced call-screening and text translation features.
On Tuesday, Apple rejected Google Voice for the App Store and removed third-party applications for the phone enhancement service. Apple, according to published reports, said it removed the applications because they duplicated features on the iPhone.
But industry watchers believe Apple hung up on Google Voice because it was under pressure from AT&T to do so. Some Google Voice features compete against core services offered by AT&T, which has an exclusive deal with Apple to offer its wireless service through the iPhone.
Earlier this month The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Department of Justice had begun investigating whether large U.S. telecommunications companies such as AT&T and Verizon Communications were engaging in anti-competitive behavior, including locking up the most popular handsets. The exclusive deal between AT&T-Apple is said to be drawing the most scrutiny.
In case Apple and AT&T didn't get the memo, the Bush Administration isn't in charge anymore and the Obama Administration is taking a far more activist approach to enforcing government regulations. Christine Varney, the Justice Department's antitrust chief, has signaled her intention to more aggressively enforce laws against anticompetitive behavior.
For Apple and AT&T, this would be a good time to lie low and not throw their market weight around as Apple appeared to do Tuesday. Actions like that get you noticed -- and not always by those you want to be noticing you.
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