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Industry Questions AOL's Messaging Motives

American Online Inc. Thursday denied it's fired the final salvo in what has been dubbed the "Instant Messaging Wars."

Reports that America Online intends to offer an architectural plan which would allow fully interoperable instant messaging systems with rivals as the means to gain regulatory approval for acquiring Time Warner, Inc. may be overblown.

Tricia Primrose, AOL spokesperson, said AOL is presenting its instant messaging proposal to the Internet Engineering Task Force Thursday while the Internet group meets to accept the plans for an interoperable instant messaging standard.

"AOL supports the industry's efforts to create an open standard for instant messaging that respects consumers privacy and protects members security concerns," Primrose said. "AOL is participating with the Internet Engineering Task Force to arrive at an open standard for instant messaging."

Primrose noted that in the interim of a establishing such a standard, AOL would continue to pioneer its instant messaging services and extend royalty-licensing agreements to those Internet services that would respect the privacy of its 50 million users.

The IETF is accepting proposals to produce such an interoperable open standard and plans to release its findings in July. The Internet Message Access Protocol Extension last met in March and continues its Working Group effort to revise and publish standards-track extensions to IMAP4 yet this year.

Competing instant messaging systems from Microsoft Corp. MSN service, AT&T Corp. WorldNet Service, iCAST Corp. and Tribal Voice, Inc., which have been blocked from accessing AOL instant messaging servers due to security reasons, allege AOL was exercising unfair competitive practices.

Each time AOL engineer's closed the door on unauthorized instant messaging interconnections, the company restated its commitment to developing open standards with the Internet Engineering Task Force that would protect the privacy of its 50 million instant messaging users.

In light of anti-competitive charges made by open standards advocate FreeIM, the debate attracted the attention of regulators at the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission at a key juncture in their review of AOL's pending merger with Time Warner .

The FTC told AOL officials that as part of upcoming depositions, it plans to question the firm about instant messaging business practices, along with other issues, like the company's commitment to sharing high-speed cable Internet lines with rival Internet service providers.

The FCC requested that AOL provide for more detailed information about its instant messaging policy earlier this month.

Both federal regulators declined comment on today's instant messaging developments.

AOL has repeatedly cited the industry-wide approach as the only scenario in which it would allow interconnection with its instant messenger service and that the Time Warner deal has no impact on its current business practices.

Mark Day, Cisco Systems, Inc. a senior scientist and co-author of the IETF requirements document for the Instant Messaging Presence and Protocol, said AOL's presence at the Working Group's meetings has been limited.

"The people who think AOL is behaving unfairly are working from an e-mail b



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