Senior senators on Judiciary Committee skeptical about settlement with Microsoft

Wednesday, December 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed skepticism Wednesday about the settlement designed to end federal antitrust charges against Microsoft Corp.

They were worried that the settlement as written would not constrain Microsoft from illegally using its market power and would not be easily enforceable.

``Rather than closing the book on the case,'' said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ``The proposed settlement only appears to be the end of the latest chapter.''

Senior Justice Department and Microsoft lawyers faced questions from the committee about the settlement.

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, said he was disappointed that instead of sending a company officer to testify, Microsoft sent an outside lawyer, Charles ``Rick'' Rule.

On the other hand, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., cited a poll that found Americans favor a settlement in the case.

The committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., responded that ``the majority of people favor a settlement, but I don't think they favor any settlement, they favor a good settlement.''

Hatch offered a letter from former Netscape executive Jim Barksdale, who said that under terms of the proposed settlement Netscape, a Microsoft rival, would never have existed.

Barksdale's letter said future versions of Netscape's Internet browser would not be protected under the current settlement. After leaving Netscape, where he helped spawn the antitrust case against Microsoft, Barksdale moved on to head a venture capital firm.

The Bush administration settled with Microsoft to get immediate relief for consumers, officials said. The settlement requires that Microsoft allow consumers to remove some features in Windows and release some of the Windows blueprints to competitors so they can write compatible software.

In March, a federal judge is scheduled to decide whether the settlement is good for consumers.

Meanwhile, nine of the states that joined with the federal government suit are seeking stronger penalties. Among the additions, they want stricter enforcement requirements and to make Microsoft sell a version of Windows without added features.

Separately, Microsoft and consumers suing the company agreed Tuesday in Baltimore to meet with an outside mediator next week to try to resolve their differences over a proposed settlement.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz urged the parties to give ``one more try after all we've been through'' to agree on an out-of-court settlement.

In dozens of private class-action lawsuits, Microsoft is accused of abusing its monopoly power and overcharging people for Windows, Office and other software. The lawsuits are separate from antitrust suits brought by states and the federal government.

A proposed settlement would provide more than $1 billion in Microsoft software, computers and training to more than 16,000 of the nation's poorest schools.