The recent brouhaha concerning Apple, AT&T, and Google Voice has led to many cries that Apple / AT&T is engaging in anti-competitive behavior. That begs the question, what is pro-competitive behavior? What would that look like and would it make any sense for a company to be “pro-competitive”?

For background on this most recent case, read the Wall Street Journal article concerning the FCC inquiry into Apple’s iPhone app approval process with respect to Google Voice.

It would seem that these cries of “anti-competitive” behavior center around the notion that AT&T wants to be the exclusive provider of voice service on the iPhones that they have subsidized to the tune of several hundred dollars per unit. And shockingly, they don’t want to put software on these subsidized iPhones that allows people to reduce the amount of revenue they give to AT&T every month.

I suppose, these critics want Apple to approve Google Voice for use on the AT&T subsidized iPhone. From their point of view, that would be “pro-competitive” behavior. Does that really make any sense for AT&T? How is that going to help them make back all the money they gave to the customer when they purchased an iPhone? How is that going to help them pay down all the large fixed investments in voice infrastructure they made in the past? Is it really in their best interest, at least in the short term, not to exercise their influence with Apple to keep Google Voice off the iPhone?

In the long run, AT&T will have to find new ways to get customers to pay for using their network, but in the short term it makes very rational sense for them to squeeze as much revenue as possible out of these subsidized iPhones. So called pro-competitive behavior on AT&T’s part would just lead to it losing money on a large number of iPhone accounts.