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"I know there has been a lot of discussion about conditions [of the merger], but I think we have been clear we are committed to open access."
——America Online CEO Steve Case

AOL-TW MERGER
STILL ON SCHEDULE

In Lieu Of Substantial Developments, AOL CEO Steve Case Wants To Say "Hi"
Like George Dubya gearing up for the White House, America Online CEO Steve Case continued to insist that the merger between his company and Time Warner was certain to close by the end of December or "by the first days of the new year."

"I'm sure that the new company will be running before the president is inaugurated [on Jan. 20]," Case said.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission delayed plans to block AOL's deal, which marks the second time the commission has postponed a decision in the protracted approval process.

"I know there has been a lot of discussion about conditions [of the merger], but I think we have been clear we are committed to open access. So if we agreed to open access [as part of the regulatory process], it would be in sync with the principles we laid out on day one," Case said. "We would prefer to do it in the market place, but [if we are regulated] it doesn't change our business outlook."

Unless you have been residing under a news-proof rock, the issues holding up the merger should sound at least vaguely familiar. Topping the list is the ever-popular cable-access issue. Regulators have been looking closely at whether and on what terms AOL's rival ISPs will have access to Time Warner's cable pipeline.

To ease those concerns, TW recently struck a pact with EarthLink. The company has also been in talks with Juno. But some critics have wanted TW to strike a deal with a more formidable rival, such as Microsoft, who attempted to come to terms with TW but failed to do so. (And isn't it interesting that federal regulators are speaking so kindly of Microsoft?)

"We've been asked to have a dialogue with the FTC about issues related to the merger," said Microsoft spokesman Vivek Varma, who added it would be inappropriate to comment further on the discussions.

Case was confident that, despite minor tweaking, the template for federally approved pacts with other ISPs had been cut. He also reiterated that AOL will be available on other cable systems in the "not too distant future" and that AOL would be stupid not to carry others' content.

"We're not forcing everything to go one way, but encouraging it to go in synergistic ways," he said. "Time Warner doesn't just sell to HBO. There are many networks on their systems. You can't force synergies that undermine your business."

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