iCAST Calls on FCC to Open Instant Messaging

Another chapter was added to the instant messaging wars Tuesday, when iCAST submitted a filing to the FCC arguing the impending AOL-Time Warner merger will curb competition in the instant messaging market.

iCAST, an operating company of Internet incubator CMGI Inc.(CMGI) said the merger would hurt the IM world by increasing America Online‘s (AOL) dominance in the market and restricting consumers’ freedom of choice. iCAST said consumers should have the freedom to choose instant IM products based on features, not user compatibility.

“AOL has already proven that while they pay lip service to the principle of openness, they are doing everything they can to build a wall around the instant messaging market. Bullies are bullies and getting bigger rarely makes them more responsible,” said Margaret Heffernan, chief executive officer, iCAST.

America Online was not immediately available for comment.

The filing submitted by iCAST focused on four key points:

  • The instant messaging market requires openness and interoperability, (communication across any platform or device) to drive innovation.
  • Consumers benefit from the ability to choose between competing, yet compatible systems and offerings in all communications products.
  • AOL claims that it is an advocate for open standards on the Internet, but consistently refuses to fully participate with other companies and the industry in working towards the end goal of free and open communication. Further, AOL is now advocating that all instant messaging providers should be licensed by AOL, a direct contradiction to the principle of open communications and interoperability.
  • Before approving the Time Warner merger, the government should ensure that AOL honors its promise to support open Internet communication and that it work with the rest of the industry to expeditiously create an open instant messaging standard. If no action is taken now, consumer choice, innovation and competition in the instant messaging market will be severely limited.
  • iCAST first butted heads with AOL in early March, when AOL blocked iCAST’s access to its newly launched iCASTER, a multimedia player with internet messaging capabilities. At the launch, iCAST boasted that the messaging technology, powered by Tribal Voice, was compatible with instant messengers from AOL, Microsoft Corp.(MSFT), AT&T(T)
    and Tribal Voice. At the time, Bill Golden, spokesman for iCAST, said Tribal Voice’s technology used a protocol to connect to AOL that had been available to the public, so the company did not anticipate any problems.

    Microsoft locked horns with AOL last year when it launched its MSN Messenger Service. After several attempts to get around AOL’s attempts to block use of the service on its network, Microsoft backed down.

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