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Europe unleashes second probe into MS

Can't even spend $3bn on a little cable company without Brussels chipping in, apparently...

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Microsoft has found itself on the receiving end of a second European Commission investigation, over its proposed purchase of a 29.9 per cent stake in UK cable company Telewest. The Commission already has an antitrust investigation of Microsoft building up steam, and earlier this week extended the deadline for Microsoft to supply documentation until 15th April. According to a statement issued today, the latest probe has been launched because of the Commission's concern over the possible impact on competition in the set-top box market, and because the deal might strengthen Telewest's dominant position as "an exclusive supplier of cable services to consumers within its franchise area." It's not entirely clear to The Register how you can strengthen your dominant position if you're already the exclusive supplier, but hey, what do we know? Interestingly, the Commission also says that it "must ensure that technology is not used to restrict the choice of services which consumers can access," and that "the focus area of the investigation will be the provision of software for digital set-top boxes in the UK and its impact for the choice of the British cable subscribers." Now people, doesn't that sound a lot broader than just an investigation into whether or not Microsoft should be allowed to buy a stake in Telewest? It sounds rather more like the Commission wants to force British cable companies, who generally are in monopoly positions, to open up the range of services they provide consumers. Funnily enough, Microsoft may turn out to be innocent, and only collateral roadkill here. As we reported last month, Telewest is proposing to use Liberate Technologies' TV Platform for its interactive services. Before being spun off Liberate was Oracle's NCI, Network Computer Inc., i.e. Microsoft's opposition. ®

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