EU to Hold Microsoft Hearings

Wednesday, November 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ European officials will hold hearings in December on Microsoft Corp.'s alleged anticompetitive practices in Europe, and a decision is expected early next year on whether the software giant violated antitrust laws, the EU's competition commissioner said Tuesday.

The commissioner, Mario Monti, said he and other competition officials are studying the proposed landmark antitrust settlement Microsoft reached with the U.S. government and nine states to determine whether its provisions could apply to the European case.

But Monti told reporters at a press conference here that it's not clear whether any of the settlement's terms might appease European antitrust concerns.

``It is definitely too early to state to what extent the settlement in the U.S. resolves the concerns in our statement of objections,'' Monti said.

The European Commission, which enforces EU rules, warned in August that Microsoft may be violating antitrust laws by bundling its Media Player audio and video software into its Windows operating system.

The commission also said Microsoft may have used ``illegal practices'' to extend its dominance in personal computers into server markets.

The agreement reached Nov. 2 between Microsoft, the Justice Department and nine states requires the company to provide technical details to help rivals make products compatible with its monopoly Windows operating system.

It gives an oversight panel full access to Microsoft's books and plans for five years, and bans exclusive contracts with computer makers that put rival software vendors at a disadvantage.

Monti said the Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is expected to file its official response to the antitrust issues with European officials this week.

A Microsoft spokesman, Jim Desler, said the company looks ``forward to fully responding to any concerns they have on this matter.''

Monti said the hearings will probably be held just before Christmas, and that the EU commission probably won't reach any decision until after the new year.

Under EU law, the commission can fine a violator up to 10 percent of its annual revenue, or potentially $2.5 billion in Microsoft's case. In practice, though, fines have never exceeded 1 percent.

Monti was in New York to receive an award from the Gruppo Esponenti Italiani, a New York-based association representing Italian business and cultural interests.