Despite the fact that a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) condition of the AOL Time Warner merger stipulated that the company open up its AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) network to the competition, AOL revealed this week that it has no plans to do so. Instead, the company says, it will now focus on alternative ways to achieve interoperability between AIM and non-AOL networks, citing its recent deal with Apple Computer, which will be the first company other than AOL to ship an AIM-compatible chat client. "While \[the AOL/Apple agreement\] is not the kind of server-to-server interoperability we and others have looked at, it does represent a way forward that is available now to allow AIM users and users of other communities to exchange messages conveniently," an AOL spokeswoman said this week.

AOL's agreement with the FTC stipulated that the company open up the AIM network to MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and other competitors, allowing users of these widely used but incompatible networks to exchange text messages, files, and other data with AIM users. The agreement came after AOL's competitors, including Microsoft, complained to the FTC, stating that the AOL Time Warner merger shouldn't be approved until AOL opened up AIM. Before the complaint, Microsoft had worked to let MSN Messenger users access AIM's user base, but AOL shut out Microsoft several times.

AOL says that it must renege on its interoperability promise because of changing market conditions and the technical difficulty of the undertaking. Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but if the task was a condition of the merger, and one AOL openly agreed to, then AOL should be forced to comply. If the government can come down hard on Microsoft for not honoring its legal agreements, it can--and should--come down equally hard on AOL for what is obviously a far more gratuitous violation.