Instant messaging investigation

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WASHINGTON - AMERICA Online's dominance of the instant messaging market through its AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and ICQ services has attracted the attention of federal investigators reviewing AOL's merger with Time Warner, according to a published report Wednesday.

Antitrust enforcers, including the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), have asked for documents and scheduled depositions with AOL and its instant messaging competitors as part of the government's review of AOL's all-stock deal announced in January to merge with Time Warner, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Dulles, Va.-based AOL's AIM and ICQ control 90 percent of the instant messaging market, according to some estimates. AOL has actively blocked other instant messaging providers from interoperating with its AIM service. That has raised concerns among competitor companies, including Tribal Voice, a unit of the Internet investment firm CMGI, and Microsoft.

Neither the FTC nor AOL returned phone calls seeking comment on the report. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which, according to the Journal, also has asked for data on AOL's instant messaging products, also must approve the merger.

Despite the scrutiny of AOL's instant messaging dominance, few people familiar with the review expect it to be denied, the article reported.

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