Microsoft agrees not to influence Euro cable techs

The European Commission said Wednesday it is closing its investigation into Microsoft Corp.’s influence on the digital cable operator market in Europe, after the company agreed to scrap its so-called technology boards.

The investigation aimed to ensure that the technology decisions of cable operators are made on merit and that suppliers of set-top boxes for television sets can compete with Microsoft on equal terms. The Commission said that Microsoft’s strategic allies have also agreed to abolish or change their technology boards.

The Commission was particularly concerned about Microsoft’s activities in the European cable television market. The software giant had already agreed to reduce its joint controlling position in U.K. cable television operator Telewest Communications PLC to a minority interest. After examining the Microsoft-Telewest case, the Commission decided to probe deeper into Microsoft’s strategic investments in Europe, including its participation in leading European broadband and cable operators such as Netherlands-based United Pan-Europe Communications NV (UPC), NTL Group Ltd. in the U.K., and TV Cabo Portugal SA.

In the cases of UPC and NTL, Microsoft’s investment was accompanied by the creation of a joint technology board that made binding recommendations as to the technology decisions of the cable company. In response to the Commission’s concerns, Microsoft agreed to abolish one of the technology boards, and to turn the other into an industry technology forum open to competing suppliers of set-top box technology.

“The Commission is happy with these modifications and considers them satisfactory to end the current investigation into the involvement of Microsoft in the emerging digital cable markets in Europe,” the Commission said in a statement. It added that it does not want to prevent these companies from buying the new Microsoft products for digital interactive television, but wants to make sure that new technologies are brought to consumers on fair and equal terms.

The European Commission, in Brussels, can be reached at +32-2-299-11-11 or online at