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Group Petitions for Unlocking Instant Messaging is spearheading the call for open instant messaging communications on the Internet.

The groups campaign for open instant messaging communications is led by online entertainment company iCAST Corp., which recently formed the industry initiative dedicated to interoperability and freedom of choice in the instant messaging marketplace.

Forty-three leading technology and instant messaging companies Wednesday joined the call for instant messaging interoperability in a letter to the heads of the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission advocating their support of open standards for instant messaging.

The letter explains the companies' concerns about the instant messaging marketplace in light of the proposed Time Warner Inc. and America Online Inc. merger.

In the letter, the companies suggest that the federal agencies in charge of approving the merger consider that America Online maintains a closed, proprietary instant messaging service that prohibits the free flow of interoperable communications over the Net.

The group contends that instant messaging will become a large and critical communications function and that businesses and individuals should be able to exchange instant messages regardless of which product, or which service provider, they use. urges the federal regulators to support the principle of open standards and interoperability for instant messaging.

Concerns about the instant messaging began when AOL, which controls over 90 percent of the instant messaging market, blocked users of other services from communicating with AOL users. Both MSN and Tribal Voice have launched instant messaging programs that operated in conjunction with AOL services over the past year.

Each time companies outside of AOL initiated interoperable instant messaging, AOL technicians moved to shut down the access due to security issues on its servers.

Margaret Heffernan, iCAST chief executive officer, said if the AOL and Time Warner merge, the door to instant messaging would be closed forever.

"As IM continues to utilize content created by companies such as Time Warner, the potential merger raises even greater concern about AOL blocking their users from access to non-AOL users," Heffernan said. "We simply cannot allow AOL to stifle innovation and hinder interoperability."

Ross Bagully, Tribal Voice chief executive officer, said access to instant messaging needs to be ubiquitous.

"The future of instant messaging is linked to open access and interoperability," Bagully said. "If the walls AOL has built around its members remain standing, that future will not be a bright one." member produces a free browser companion dubbed Instant Rendezvous for Web sites to build online communities through instant messaging communications. Eli Efrat, chief executive officer said AOL has had plenty of time to make its instant messaging services interoperable.

"AOL has continually rebuffed any chance for open communication, even though the company promised more than ten months ago to 'fast-track' its interoperability efforts," Efrat said.

Companies signing the letter include leading instant messaging companies include Excite@Home, Alta Vista Inc., CMGI Inc. and