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Microsoft facing sanctions over browser choice failing with EU regulator set to open formal proceedings

Microsoft is set to be subjected to sanctions after the EU's Competition Commissioner revealed that the European Commission will begin formal proceedings against it over web browsers.28 Sep 2012

The Commissioner said that the EU's competition regulator is set to "open a formal proceeding into the company's breach of an agreement" that required the software giant to offer users of its operating system greater choice over which internet browser to use.

Joaquín Almunia said that the European Commission was "working" on opening the formal proceedings, and that he did not expect the investigation to be a "long" one "because the company itself explicitly recognised its breach of the agreement," according to a report by Reuters news agency.

In July the European Commission opened an investigation into whether Microsoft failed to adhere to a "legally binding commitment" it gave in 2009 to provide users of its operating system with a screen enabling those users to easily choose between different internet browsers.

At the time Almunia said that the Commission had gathered evidence suggesting that Microsoft stopped displaying the screen in February 2011 following the launch of Windows 7 Service Pack 1. Almunia said, though, that Microsoft had told the Commission in December 2011 that it was still using the browser-choice screen.

The Commission previously dropped an investigation into alleged anti-competitive behaviour by Microsoft in 2009 on the basis that the software giant agreed to offer Microsoft Windows users the browser-choice screen. The Commission had been concerned that Microsoft had abused its dominant market position by 'tying' its Internet Explorer web browser to its near-universally used Windows operating system.

When announcing that the Commission had opened an investigation into the alleged non-compliance with the browser choice obligation, Almunia said that "Microsoft should expect sanctions" if the "infringement" was "confirmed".

Competition law specialist Alan Davis of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, previously said that, in light of previous infringements, the Commission is unlikely to be lenient on Microsoft if it decides that penalties should be imposed on the company following its investigation. Davis said the Commission is able to fine companies up to 10% of their global turnover, meaning that Microsoft could theoretically face a bill for up to $7 billion if it is found to have failed to comply with the Commission's demands.

In July Microsoft admitted that it had "fallen short" of its "responsibility" and blamed a lack of an update to its Windows 7 package on a "technical error". Earlier this month Almunia revealed that Microsoft would "comply immediately" with its browser choice obligations "regardless of the conclusion of the anti trust probe."