America Online (AOL) may be forced to open its instant messaging service to win US federal regulators' approval of its pending merger with Time Warner, according to US newspaper reports.
Staff at the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have proposed that AOL open its service to other users and to competing providers. In addition, the FCC suggests that the merged AOL-Time Warner should open its high-speed cable lines to rivals.
However, the companies have already said that they intend to open their cable lines as well as AOL's instant messaging service which the internet service provider has so far aggressively protected by barring access from users of rival systems developed by Microsoft, Yahoo and AT&T.
The US government, AOL competitors and some consumer groups fear that with no restrictions, the combination of AOL's services and Time Warner's cable systems, could dominate the future of the internet.
The FCC is evaluating whether AOL's definition of "open access" is open enough. If it is not, regulators could rule that the company would have too much control of the web through Time Warner's cable interests.
AOL could not be reached for comment.
Separately, software startup Aimster said it will release an Open Instant Messaging interface next week to allow users of AOL's two instant messaging systems - AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and ICQ - to talk to one another and share 'buddy' lists.
Aimster also plans to include support for instant messaging services from Microsoft, Yahoo and Odigo.
Aimster's system also enables users to swap software such as MP3 music files within the AIM network, and the company claimed it has attracted 1.2 million AOL users so far.
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