FCC takes aim this week at protecting wireless consumers

The Federal Communications Commission this week plans to start digging in on wireless, with the goal of strengthening consumer protection.

The FCC's probe, expected to be discussed Thursday at its regular meeting, has three parts: One will examine wireless competition; the second will look at barriers to entry and investment; the third will focus on consumer billing, including wireless contracts.

The FCC's push is a big win for the USA's 270 million wireless customers, says Ben Scott, public policy director at Free Press, a consumer advocacy group. "There's a cop back on the beat at the FCC on behalf of consumers, and it's a welcome one, particularly if they deliver."

Joel Kelsey, public policy analyst at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, agrees. "This is leading to a bigger action by the FCC."

They say the FCC is trying to answer a basic but critical question: "Who controls the future of the mobile Internet" — consumers or wireless players?

As recent events have demonstrated, Kelsey says, the interests of wireless players sometimes collide with those of consumers.

On Friday, AT&T confirmed that its partnership agreement with Apple requires Apple aapl to block "VoIP," or Internet telephony, on the iPhone. Many consumers love VoIP, but it competes head-on with AT&T's voice business.

AT&T t told the FCC it plans to take a "fresh look" at the technology. Currently, VoIP on the iPhone works only on Wi-Fi.

AT&T's comments were submitted in response to a formal request from the FCC, which is investigating published reports that Google Voice, a free voice application created by Google goog, is banned from the iPhone.

In its comments, AT&T said it had "no role in any decision by Apple not to accept" Google Voice. Apple, in its comments, agreed.

According to Apple, Google Voice has not yet been approved because "it appears to alter" the basic iPhone experience "by replacing the iPhone's core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface" with one created by Google for calls, text messaging and e-mail.

Apple also said it had concerns about consumer privacy, noting that, with Google Voice, "The iPhone user's entire contacts database is transferred to Google's servers, and we have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways."

Google, in its comments, declined to publicly discuss Apple's concerns. Google asked the FCC to keep that part of its letter confidential, the only company to request such treatment. Responses are expected to become a part of the larger FCC probe.