Foo Yun Chee Brussels
The EU fined Microsoft e561 million (R6.6 billion) yesterday for failing to offer consumers a choice of web browser, a charge that will act as a warning to other technology firms involved in antitrust disputes with the EU.
It said the firm had broken a legally binding commitment made in 2009 to ensure consumers had a choice of browser, rather than defaulting to its Internet Explorer.
An EU investigation found that Microsoft had failed to honour that obligation in software issued between May 2011 and July last year, meaning 15 million users were never made aware they could choose.
“Legally binding commitments reached in antitrust decisions play a very important role in our enforcement policy,” said Joaquín Almunia, the EU’s competition commissioner. “A failure to comply is a serious infringement that must be sanctioned accordingly.”
Yesterday’s fine is the first time the European Commission, the EU’s antitrust authority, has fined a company for non-compliance with agreed commitments. The authority could have charged Microsoft up to 10 percent of its global turnover, or as much as $7.9 billion (R71.4bn).
In that respect, the fine is relatively light, but still marks a firm sanction by the EU and will not go unnoticed by the likes of Google, which is involved in a dispute with the commission over how it ranks search engine results.
Microsoft has a long and bitter relationship with the EU’s antitrust authority, which has now issued fines totalling e2.16bn against the US firm.
In 2004, the commission found that Microsoft had abused its dominant market position in relation to the tying of Windows Media Player to the Windows software package and imposed fines.
Then in 2009, in order to resolve other competition concerns, Microsoft undertook to offer users a browser choice screen allowing them to download a browser other than Explorer.
The commission made that obligation legally binding for five years, until 2014, and initially the company complied. – Reuters