AOL asks FCC to remove IM restriction

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AOL Time Warner has asked the FCC to drop a requirement that the company make its Instant Messaging (IM) system interoperable with competitors' IM products. You might recall that the requirement was a condition of the AOL merger with Time Warner more than 2 years ago. During the merger, competitors such as Microsoft and Yahoo! argued that a combined AOL Time Warner would unfairly dominate the emerging IM market. Since then, however, the company hasn't made any progress interoperating its IM products with competitors' products.

In AOL Time Warner's petition to the FCC, the company argues that AOL's IM services--AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and ICQ--have fallen behind technologically, compared with MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger, both of which now offer videoconferencing features. Because of its agreement with the FCC, AOL can't offer advanced features such as videoconferencing unless the company opens up its service to the competition. So AOL Time Warner has asked the FCC to drop this requirement.

"Knowing the [interoperability] condition was based on assumptions and predictions, the FCC specifically created a way for it to be removed," an AOL Time Warner spokesperson said. "The last few years have shown that IM competition is vital, strong, and growing, and this condition is simply not necessary."

Since striking its agreement with the FCC, which eventually approved the merger, AOL has waffled on the requirement. Indeed, the company made several announcements that indicated it would never fulfill the agreement; in one announcement, the company admitted it wouldn't offer server-to-server IM interoperability. And last year, in a bid to sidestep the requirement, AOL Time Warner agreed to host Apple Computer's IM offering, iChat, through the AIM service.

AOL has 62 million AIM and 8 million ICQ users and is the leading IM vendor. MSN Messenger, with 20 million users, and Yahoo!, with 18 million, are in second and third place, respectively.

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