RealTime IT News

Microsoft Probed by Australian Regulator on Browser Bundling

Australian Internet service providers and corporate users are being asked to provide details of browser bundling deals with Microsoft by the country's national competition watchdog.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has distributed a letter asking for testimony by ISPs and companies using intranets about alleged anti-competitive conduct by Microsoft to exclude Netscape Communications' Navigator browser from Web users' PCs.

Michael Cosgrave, senior assistant commissioner for telecommunications for the ACCC, admitted that the watchdog was monitoring Microsoft's activities in the Australian market.

"We've been keeping close tabs on developments in the USA, and obviously we're examining the Australian ramifications," Cosgrave said.

The US Federal Trade Commission has an ongoing investigation on the same issue, which is currently travelling through the court system.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by australia.internet.com, cited enticements offered by Microsoft to ISPs as including "cash payments; discounted or free software; and discounted or free technical assistance and support."

For companies operating intranets, the letter gave examples of "alleged inducements" such as: "discounts on the cost of operating systems software," and "a refusal to supply operating system software unless the company also acquired the Microsoft browser."

A network manager from one medium-size Australian ISP, who declined to be named, said that Microsoft had been signing such deals as early as two years ago. The contract to which his company agreed to for distributing Internet Explorer included clauses which specifically excluded Navigator, and demanded that IE be installed on all internal computers.

"It's hard to say that they're anti-competitive, but they're aggressive, certainly," the source said.

It is understood that the ACCC query arises from an unofficial complaint made late last year, but that no ISP or company has been willing to come forward and make a public statement.