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In a sign that America Online Inc. could complete its acquisition of Time Warner Inc. soon, one of the last major groups fighting the deal told the government there is no need to delay action on the $113 billion transaction. Microsoft Corp., AT&T Corp., Yahoo! Inc. and other members of IMUnified, a coalition of technology and instant messaging companies, said in a letter released Dec.27 that the Federal Communications Commission could quickly tailor a remedy that requires AOL to let rival instant messaging providers access its members. “We are not seeking to delay approval of the merger,” wrote Gerard J. Waldron, a partner in the Washington office of the Covington & Burling law firm, which represents the group. IMUnified seeks “a meaningful and enforceable merger condition that will prevent anticompetitive harms to this critical platform for communications,” said the Dec. 26 letter filed with the FCC. Waldron said in the letter that he met Friday with advisers to FCC commissioners Susan Ness and Gloria Tristani, both of whom are reportedly skeptical about the AOL-Time Warner deal and inclined to impose conditions on the transaction. The FCC should require by a specific date that AOL provide reciprocal exchanges of instant messaging traffic with rival providers, Waldron said he told the advisers. This would mean that any provider linking with AOL would also have to make its system interoperable with the Internet giant’s platform, he said. This will ensure that there is two-way interoperability, Waldron wrote. “Unless the commission takes concrete steps to require AOL to become interoperable with third-party [instant messaging] providers, the future of interoperability among any IM providers is in doubt,” he warned. The FCC is expected to rule on the AOL-Time Warner as early as this week, though a decision could drag into next year. Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth, a Republican appointee, is widely expected to seek unconditional approval of the deal. He has repeatedly said it is inappropriate for the FCC to use the license transfer process to address competitive issues. It remains unclear how the other four commissioners will vote. All four have expressed concerns about regulating the Internet. Yet they all also have questioned the amount of market clout that a merger AOL-Time Warner will yield. The vote is the final regulatory hurdle for the deal, which was unveiled Jan. 10. The Federal Trade Commission gave it antitrust clearance on Dec. 14. �Copyright 2000, The Deal, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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