EU antitrust body expected to levy big fine on Microsoft

Monopoly: Case relates to the software giant not giving access to other web browsers

Written by New York Times | Brussels | Published:March 6, 2013 12:49 am

JAMES KANTER

European antitrust officials are expected to impose a large fine on Microsoft on Wednesday for failing to give users of the company’s Windows software the choice of competing internet browsers.

It would be the first time the European Union has punished a company for neglecting to comply with the terms of an antitrust settlement. Microsoft and European antitrust officials reached a settlement over the browser-access issue in 2009. But last October,the Union’s antitrust chief,Joaquín Almunia,charged Microsoft with failing to live up to its terms.

Almunia’s office could not be reached,and Microsoft officials declined to comment,although the company has previously emphasised that the failure was a mistake it regretted.

Alumunia had warned Microsoft last summer that on some occasions its software was still not providing users to the full access to competing Web browser programs,as called for in the 2009 settlement. The company apologised in July,calling it a technical problem of which it had only recently become aware.

Millions of European users of the Windows 7 SP1 version of the software may not have been offered a choice of browsers between February 2011 and July 2012.

In October Almunia put Microsoft on notice that it must include adequate access to rival browsers in European versions of its next-generation operating system,Windows 8,which was about to go on sale.

The significance of the action expected Wednesday could reach beyond Microsoft. It comes as Almunia’s office is negotiating with Google to try to settle the commission’s concerns about that company’s dominance of the internet search and advertising markets.

In theory,Almunia can levy a fine totaling up to 10 percent of a company’s global annual l revenue. In Microsoft’s case that could mean a penalty of $7 billion,but analysts say it is highly unlikely to reach that level.

The largest single fine ever levied by the European authorities in an antitrust case was 1.1 billion euros,or $1.4 billion,in 2009 against Intel for abusing its dominance in the computer chip market. Intel is still appealing that ruling.

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