Legislation Requiring Microsoft to Embrace Chat Interoperability Advances in the Senate
The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to advance the American Innovation And Choice Online Act (S. 2992) which requires Microsoft to make efforts to enable interoperability with messaging services like Slack, Webex, and Zoom Team Chat.
What is S.2992?
The bill, S. 2992, introduced in October 2021, provides that certain discriminatory conduct by covered platforms shall be unlawful, and for other purposes.
Among many listed violations and unlawful conduct criteria, a key violation requested on the S. 2992 bill is that it will be a violation to:
“(b) Unlawful Conduct.—It shall be unlawful for a person operating a covered platform, in or affecting commerce, if it is shown, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the person has engaged in conduct that would—
(1) materially restrict or impede the capacity of a business user to access or interoperate with the same platform, operating system, hardware or software features that are available to the covered platform operator’s own products, services, or lines of business that compete or would compete with products or services offered by business users on the covered platform.”
Businesses deemed in violation of the American Innovation And Choice Online Act, if approved, will be penalized by an amount not more than 15 percent of the total United States revenue of the person for the period of time the violation occurred.
Impact of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act on collaboration apps
If a vendor has 100,000 daily active business users or more over a 12-month period in the US, that company will no longer be able to prohibit interoperability with supplementary applications. The same action will apply to personal platforms with 50 million daily active users in the US (examples: Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon).
For example, Microsoft Teams now has over 145 million daily active users (and 280 million monthly active users). In this case, Microsoft wouldn’t be able to deny interoperability with competing platforms like Webex, Zoom, and Slack.
For users of Teams and for compatibility and accessibility in general, this can only be a good thing, and nothing Microsoft should be afraid of. Interoperability doesn’t mean loss of customers or loss of business. It means enhanced productivity, efficient workflows, and uninterrupted integration.
This isn’t new to Microsoft, and there has been public acknowledgment on several occasions.
Jeff Teper, head of Microsoft 365 collaboration, told The Verge recently:
“There’s not going to be a one and only communications tool on the planet. People are going to choose a number of tools, so it’s on us as responsible vendors to make sure they can interoperate.”
Collaboration industry support for the American Innovation and Choice Online Act
As Abhay Kulkarni VP and GM of Webex, mentions in an interview on the need for interoperability:
“From a competition perspective, if you make the end user’s life easier, competition takes care of itself.”
This is reflected in the glowing support for the S. 2992 bill. An open letter has already been signed by interoperability enablers and enthusiasts including:
- Andi Search
- CadItApp Inc
- Efani Inc
- Fathom Analytics
- Hype Machine
- In Stock
- Initialized Capital
- Jelly Public Benefit Corporation
- Milk Video, Inc.
- Mini Exhibitions
- Mark Pincus
- Proton Technologies
- The Travel Technology Association
- The Tor Project
- Y Combinator
It states Dominant technologies companies’ ability to give their own products and services preferential placement, access, and data on online platforms and operating systems prevents companies like us from competing on the merits.
In a written testimony, Eric Migicovsky, founder and CEO of Beeper, explains the problem regarding big tech companies’ market dominance and lack of interoperability:
“We have thousands of beta testers but we’re finding it increasingly hard to connect Beeper to chat networks run by big tech companies.
The main reason why there is little innovation in chat is because of the lock-in network effects of the apps run by big tech companies.
This lock-in effect also prevents new competitors with innovative ideas from getting off the ground. Recent acquisitions of Sphere and Quill by Twitter are clear examples of nascent companies getting scooped up by big tech companies after running into trouble competing with entrenched network effects.”
The latest update on the S. 2992 bill is listed as 20th January 2021:
If S. 2992 passes the Senate, it must be then passed to the House then the President to become law.
What happens if bill S.2992 becomes law?
If the bill passes, customers will benefit from interoperability between Microsoft Teams and other chat platforms. A deepened focus on interoperability for both messaging and video is a clear need for existing users of these online platforms.
91% of businesses used at least two messaging apps. Coupled with the ever-growing number of users of Microsoft Teams, this means the chances of an IT environment including Microsoft Teams + Webex (example) is high.
When 5,000 staff use Teams and another 5,000 use Webex, the ideal scenario of a single platform is often impossible. Be it through mergers and acquisitions or simply personal preference, multi-platform use is rife and interoperability is favored to an all or nothing migration.
Video-native collaboration platforms like Zoom are also dedicating time to developing a best-in-class chat solution, Zoom Team Chat.
For platform operators who provide video and messaging, this bill means customers using multiple platforms will get access to interoperability between platforms. This means they can coexist rather than fight each other for attention, use, and support in large enterprises.
Webex and Zoom have publicly embraced interoperability, and Slack is a flagship bearer for integrations, bill S.2992 could act as a trigger for Microsoft to deepen native interoperability with competitors.
The history of interoperability shows progress towards an open messaging ecosystem. The American Innovation And Choice Online Act may be the collaboration industry’s best hope for ensuring Microsoft and other major players in the collaboration industry continue to address their customer’s interoperability needs.