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

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

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
and the Federal Communications
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

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

usiness model where people freely interconnect without exchanging money,”
Day said. “My impression is that AOL is working off a model that instant
messaging is like telephony infrastructure, in that it’s not comparable to
e-mail because AOL has the lions share of the value and customers. It’s not
reasonable for them to support everybody else.”

Day said while the two views of the instant messaging world are not
compatible, AOL would be mistaken to ignore an open instant-messaging standard.

“Past history shows that proprietary systems are eventually overwhelmed by
interoperable open systems,” Day said. “The goal of interoperability is to
openness. Maybe from a business standard AOL can ignore it now, but if
there were open standards among these systems, then they would ignore it at
their peril.”

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