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The Internet's basic appeal lies in its vast information and its openness for anyone with a computer hookup. But strong commercial interests may try to corner the content and easy access of the Net.

That possibility led the Federal Trade Commission to tinker with the proposed merger of media/entertainment giant Time Warner and American Online, the largest Internet provider (ISP).

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In approving the merger last week, the FTC extracted obligations from this giant company that it would not gain undue control over the fast-emerging field of high-speed Internet access. Time Warner's cable operation, which controls 20 percent of the market, promised to open these broadband lines to Internet service providers other than AOL.

Separating the medium and message helps prevent monopolistic abuse. And this pact fits into a trend among other cable companies to allow consumers a choice in buying service on the Net.

Cable, however, will be only one facet of the high-speed Internet. Other technologies, such as DSL, satellite, and digital wireless phones, will give consumers options. The AOL-Time Warner merger, too, now seems less of a model for a merging of the new and old media. The bloom is off Internet-related stocks. Instead of mega-mergers, companies are happier remaining independent and flexible.

Regulators may have a little less to do. But they were right to step into the AOL-Time Warner deal and reassert a public interest in this fast-moving field.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society


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