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AOL: Instant Messaging Interoperability is a Non-Issue

Earlier in June, the Federal Communications Commission requested that America Online Inc. explain its stance on instance messaging, in light of its proposed merger with Time Warner Inc.

Royce Dickens, FCC Cable Service Bureau deputy chief of the policy and rules division, probed America Online's pledge to develop an interoperability standard for instant messaging, and if AOL was actively working to set such standards.

In its reply to the Commission earlier this week, AOL noted that it pioneered the concept of instant messaging in 1985 and unveiled the first service to its members in 1989. At that time, instant messaging was available only to AOL subscribers, according to the firm's attorneys.

AOL said it recognized the popularity of its proprietary instant messaging service in 1997 and began giving away for free to anyone on the Web.

Since then, AOL has also entered more than a dozen royalty-free license agreements with other companies-including Lotus, Lycos Inc., EarthLink Inc. and other Internet service providers.

Additionally, AOL stated that it has and continues to support efforts to create an open and interoperable standard that would allow users to exchange instant messages across different instant messaging networks.

To that end, AOL submitted its proposal to the Internet Engineering Task Force about how to best achieve the goal of interoperability mid-June.

AOL's proposal included the architecture to design a worldwide instant messaging system. In doing so, AOL legal representatives said the proposal represents a significant step toward the development of detailed protocols for implementing full instant messaging interoperability.

Rival instant messaging firms quickly challenged AOL's integrity and acceptance of developing an open standard.

At the same time AOL's IETF proposal was submitted, it was playing a cat-and-mouse game resisting unauthorized attempts by Odigo Inc. to access its instant messaging network.

Avner Ronen, Odigo vice president of strategic design, scoffed at AOL's professed desire for open standards.

"What AOL has posted is no more than an outline for interoperability," Ronen said. "On the surface, great, they are committed. However, they have claimed commitment for over one year now. This outline has no time-frame and no specific architecture. AOL's announcement does not bring us any closer to a standard platform."

AOL said that allowing outside companies to access its instant messaging servers would jeopardize the security and privacy of its 23 million members and 50 million instant messaging users.

AOL legal representatives alleged that had e-mail protocols been as deliberate as its instant messaging system, unsolicited e-mail, or spam, and e-mail borne viruses would not afflict the online community today.

The legal team of Peter Ross, Wiley, Rein & Fielding, and Arthur Harding,, Fleischman and Walsh, L.L.P., informed the FCC that the best way to access alternative instant messaging providers is to secure a royalty-free licensing agreement with AOL.

"AOL does not demand payment in exchange for use of its IM technology. Likewise, AOL does not pay for access to other providers' customers," the lawyers wrote.

AOL's legal team contends that because most of the instant messaging services are free to use, consumers can choose the program-or programs-that best meet their needs. Even without interoperability, Internet users canex



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