AOL Time Warner ISP sway questioned

A consumer group wants the government trustee monitoring AOL Time Warner's promise to let unaffiliated ISPs offer service over the company's high-speed Internet lines to investigate whether the company is living up to its pledge.

At question is AOL Time Warner's announcement last week that High Speed Access Corp. would be the last of three unaffiliated Internet providers that the Federal Trade Commission ordered to have access to the company broadband network. The Center for Digital Democracy Monday asked FTC trustee Dale Hatfield to investigate whether HSA is truly shielded from AOL Time Warner's influence.

Jeffrey Chester, the center's executive director, argued that HSA is linked to AOL Time Warner because of ties to a major cable operator that has "significant business relationships" with the Internet powerhouse and programming and cable system conglomerate. HSA is owned by Microsoft co-founder and cable investor Paul Allen, who also owns Charter Communications. Because of Charter's relations with AOL Time Warner, including purchases of programming, HSA "may not be able to act as an independent ISP," Chester said.

In December the FTC imposed the ISP carriage order as a condition of approving AOL's merger with Time Warner.
- Bill McConnell