U.S. Government and Microsoft consider settlement changes

Microsoft Corp. and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) are considering whether, in reaction to public comments, they will modify their proposed settlement in the government’s antitrust case against the software giant, according to a joint status report made available Thursday.

Any proposed modifications, and the DOJ’s general response to the public comments, will be filed by Feb. 27. The DOJ and Microsoft will also issue their motions of support for the settlement by that day.

Based on the overwhelming number of public comment submissions that the DOJ received regarding its proposed settlement of the case, the parties have asked U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to omit oral third-party testimony from any future hearings on the agreement.

In the report, the parties suggest the judge hold a one-day hearing to clarify any remaining issues related to the proposed settlement. Microsoft, the DOJ, and the nine states that have joined the settlement should be the only participants, they added.

Although the parties do not anticipate the judge requiring further information to rule on the settlement, they proposed a court hearing for Kollar-Kotelly to hear oral arguments and ask questions as needed. They request such a hearing be held during the week of March 4. On Friday, Feb. 8, the judge is expected to discuss in court the status report and related scheduling matters.

The report says: “… a large number of highly interested and motivated third parties have taken full advantage of the opportunity to submit extensive comments which set forth in painstaking detail their views of the (settlement) and whether or not the court should enter it. As a result, third parties have had a full and effective mechanism to present to the court any arguments or concerns they believe it should address in its public interest determination.”

Indeed, during the 60-day public comment period that ended on Jan. 28, the DOJ received over 30,000 submissions, the report said. Of the total submissions – which included advertisements and, in one case, pornography – about 7,500 were in favor of the settlement, 15,000 opposed it, and 7,000 did not express a view one way or another, according to the report.

Under a federal law called the Tunney Act, the proposed settlement in an antitrust case must be open to public comment and must be approved by a judge as in the interest of the public.

For the nine states and the District of Columbia that did not agree to the settlement with Microsoft, a court hearing is scheduled on March 11 to begin remedy proceedings.

The DOJ can be reached online at http//:www.usdoj.gov/. Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., can be reached at http://www.microsoft.com/.