In 2009, the European Commission investigated Microsoft’s practice of bundling its own browser, Internet Explorer, with new copies of Windows. It found that this was an abuse of market power and created an unfair barrier to entry of other browsers, such as Firefox.
An agreement was reached that Microsoft would include a ‘choice screen’ in which users in the EU would be given a full list of alternative browsers and asked which they would like to install. On making their selection, a link would take them to the browser site to download the installation program. This screen would be available until 2014. Between March 2010, when the choice screen was first provided and November of the same year, 84 million browsers were downloaded through it.
In May 2011, however, the screen was no longer present on new Windows 7 purchases. The Commission took some time to realise this: indeed it was Microsoft’s rivals that pointed it out. The screen reappeared some 13 months later, after some 15m copies of Windows software had been sold.
For this lapse, the Commission has just fined Microsoft €561m. Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy, Joaquín Almunia, said:
In 2009, we closed our investigation about a suspected abuse of dominant position by Microsoft due to the tying of Internet Explorer to Windows by accepting commitments offered by the company. Legally binding commitments reached in antitrust decisions play a very important role in our enforcement policy because they allow for rapid solutions to competition problems. Of course, such decisions require strict compliance. A failure to comply is a very serious infringement that must be sanctioned accordingly.
This may seem unduly harsh, given that Internet Explorer’s share of the browser market has fallen dramatically. In 2009, it had around 50% of the European market, with its main rival at the time, Mozilla’s Firefox, having just under 40%. By 2013, Internet Explorer’s share has fallen to around 24% and Firefox’s to around 29%. Google’s Chrome, which was just starting up in 2009, has seen its share of the European market rise to around 35% and is now the market leader. Partly this is due to the rise in tablets and smartphones, a large proportion of which use Google’s Android operating system and the Chrome browser.
Not surprisingly, the European Commission is investigating Google to see whether it is abusing a dominant position. Is Google’s case, it’s not just about its share of the browser market, it’s more about its share of the search market, which in the EU is around 90% (compared with around 65% in the USA). As The Economist article below states:
The Commissioner believes that Google may be favouring its own specialised services (eg, for flights or hotels) at rivals’ expense; that its deals with publishers may unfairly exclude competitors; and that it prevents advertisers from taking their data elsewhere.
Joaquín Almunia asked Google to respond to these concerns by January 31. Google delivered its suggestions on the deadline, but we await to hear precisely what it said and how the Commission will respond. It is understood that Google’s proposal is for clearly labelling its own products on its search engine.
Microsoft Fined $732 Million By EU Over Browser eWeek, Michelle Maisto (6/3/13)
Microsoft faces hefty EU fine The Guardian (6/3/13)
Sin of omission The Economist (9/3/13)
Microsoft fined by European Commission over web browser BBC News (6/3/13)
EU commissioner Joaquin Almunia announces Microsoft fine BBC News (6/3/13)
Microsoft’s European Fine Comes in an Era of Browser Diversity Forbes, J.P. Gownder (6/3/13)
Life after Firefox: Can Mozilla regain its mojo? BBC News, Dave Lee (11/4/12)
Google responds to European commission’s antitrust chief The Guardian, Charles Arthur (31/1/13)
Google May Clinch EU Settlement After ‘Summer,’ Almunia Says Bloomberg Businessweek, Stephanie Bodoni and Aoife White (22/2/13)
European Commission Press Release
Antitrust: Commission fines Microsoft for non-compliance with browser choice commitments Europa (6/3/13)
- Why did Microsoft’s share of the browser market continue to decline between May 2011 and June 2012?
- Why would it matter if Microsoft had market power in the browser market, given that it’s free for anyone to download a browser?
- In what ways might Google be abusing a dominant position in the market?
- Can Mozilla regain its mojo?
- According to the second Guardian article, the Microsoft-backed lobby group Icomp said “To be seen as a success, any settlement must … include specific measures to restore competition and allow other parties to compete effectively on a level playing field with Google in the key markets of search and search advertising.” Give examples of such measures and assess how successful they might be.
- Would “clearly labelling its own products on its search engine” be enough to ensure adequate competition?
EDF, one of the big six energy retailers in the UK, has agreed to pay out a record £4.5m. £1m of this will go to funding an energy advice centre; the rest will go to providing £50 each to 70,000 ‘vulnerable customers’ who struggle to pay their bills and who receive the government’s warm home discount.
The agreement was made with Ofgem after an investigation into mis-selling, both on the doorstep and over the phone. Customers were persuaded to switch energy suppliers with the promise of savings on their bills. As the FT articles states:
Ofgem found that EDF’s sales force did not always provide complete information to customers on some contract terms, or on the way in which their monthly direct debits had been calculated. In some cases, telesales agents claimed savings without knowing whether they were accurate for the specific customer on the call, the regulator said.
Ofgem did not accuse the company of directly sanctioning such practices, but rather of weak monitoring and control of its sales force’s actions.
The £4.5m payment is in lieu of a fine. Consumer groups have welcomed this, preferring the company to pay compensation to a fine, which would have simply increased Treasury funding.
It is the first settlement in a broader investigation into mis-selling, involving four of the six major suppliers.
EDF to pay out £4.5m in mis-selling case Financial Times, Guy Chazan and Hannah Kuchler (9/3/12)
EDF agrees to pay £4.5m misleading sales ‘fine’ Guardian, Lisa Bachelor (9/3/12)
Is it a fine? Is it a penalty? No, it’s EDF’s mystery Ofgem payment Management Today, Rebecca Burn-Callander (9/3/12)
‘Misleading claims’ cost EDF a £4.5m payout from watchdog , Independent, Tom Bawden (10/3/12)
EDF Energy agrees to pay a £4.5m ‘fine’ BBC News (9/3/12)
EDF Energy agrees to pay a £4.5m ‘fine’ BBC News, John Moylan (9/3/12)
More energy payouts could follow EDF’s £4.5m The Telegraph, Kara Gammell (9/3/12)
EDF energy agrees to invest £4.5 million to help vulnerable customers following Ofgem investigation Ofgem
- What types of market failure are present in the energy supply industry?
- What are the arguments for and against fines being paid directly to victims of crime rather than to the government?
- In what ways could the energy industry be made more competitive?
- Why do the utilities, such as gas, electricity and water, require their own regulator rather than simply being subject to competition law?
Ofcom, the communications regulator, is keen to encourage the spread of super-fast broadband through investment in fibre-optic cabling. So far, super-fast broadband is available to around 46 per cent of the UK population. Both Virgin Media (formerly Telewest and NTL) and BT have invested in fibre optic cables, but Ofcom is keen to extend the use to rival companies.
It proposes two methods: the first is to give competitors access to BT’s cables; the second is to allow competitors to install their own cables using BT’s ducts and telegraph poles. In both cases BT would charge companies to use its infrastructure and would be free to set prices so as to ensure a ‘fair rate of return’.
The articles below consider this ‘solution’ and its likely success in developing competition in the super-fast broadband market through competition, or whether BT’s and Virgin’s market dominance will continue to the detriment of consumers. You can also find links below to the Ofcom report and summaries
BT welcomes Ofcom’s fibre access plans Reuters, Kate Holton (23/3/10)
Ofcom to encourage super-fast broadband Business Financial Newswire (23/3/10)
Ofcom tells BT to open its fibre network ShareCast (23/3/10)
Ofcom wants BT to open up infrastructure Financial Times, Philip Stafford (23/3/10)
Ofcom push to give broadband rivals access to BT tunnels Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw and Andrew Parker (23/3/10)
BT UK Pushes Ofcom to Open Virgin Medias Broadband Cable Ducts SamKnows, Phil Thompson (23/3/10)
BT welcomes Ofcom’s fibre access plans ISPreview, MarkJ (8/3/10)
Report and summaries
Summary: Enabling a super-fast broadband Britain Ofcom (23/3/10)
Review of the wholesale local access market: full document Ofcom (23/3/10)
Review of the wholesale local access market: summary Ofcom (23/3/10)
- What forms does competition take in the broadband market?
- What are the barriers to entry to the super-fast broadband market?
- Are fibre-optic networks a natural monopoly? Explain the significance of your answer for competition in the super-fast broadband market.
- Will Ofcom’s desire for BT to get a fair return on its wholesale pricing of access to its cabling, ducts and telegraph poles be sufficient to ensure effective competition and that profits are not excessive?
- Explain whether it would be in consumers’ interests for competitors to be given access to Virgin’s cables and ducts.
The European Commission has received three complaints against Google for anti-competitive practices. The complainants are Microsoft’s Ciao, UK price comparison site Foundem and French legal search engine ejustice.fr
“The Commission has not opened a formal investigation for the time being. As is usual when the Commission receives complaints, it informed Google earlier this month and asked the company to comment on the allegations. The Commission closely cooperates with the national competition authorities. No further information can be given at this stage.”
Although the complaints are different (see articles below), the common feature is that Google has used its dominant market position to the detriment of competitors and consumers. Not surprisingly, Google has vigorously defended itself against the accusations.
So just what is the case against Google? Are the complaints justified, or are they merely competitors whinging about their relative lack of success? The following articles look at the facts and the issues.
EU launches antitrust inquiry into Google ‘dominance’ Times Online, Mike Harvey (24/2/10)
Google Says It Faces Competition Complaints in Europe BusinessWeek, Brian Womack and Joseph Galante (24/2/10)
Google faces anti-monopoly probe by European Commission Guardian, Andrew Clark (24/2/10)
Why Europe could prove Google’s undoing Guardian, Bobbie Johnson (24/2/10)
Analysis: not evil? Are you sure? Times Online, Mike Harvey (24/2/10)
Google faces Brussels antitrust scrutiny Financial Times, Richard Waters and Nikki Tait (24/2/10)
EU Opens Antitrust Investigation Into Google. Microsoft’s Fingerprints Are Everywhere. Washington Post, MG Siegler (23/2/10)
Google Hit With Antitrust Probe in Europe PC World, James Niccolai (23/2/10)
Is Redmond The Puppet Master In Google EU Anti-Trust Investigation? search engine land, Greg Sterling (23/2/10)
Google Under Investigation by European Union PCMag, Mark Hachman (24/2/10)
EU inquiry points the searchlight on Google’s methods Telegraph, Kamal Ahmed (24/2/10)
Google under investigation for alleged breach of EU competition rules Telegraph, Kamal Ahmed (24/2/10)
- What is the case against Google? Does this make it in breach of EU competition law?
- Assess Google’s response.
- Is Google “doing anything to choke off competition or hurt our users and partners”?
- How could competition be increased for Google? Is this likely to happen?
Kraft was seeking to take over Cadbury since September 2009, (see Cadbury: Chocolate all change and A Krafty approach to Cadbury). But the Cadbury board had rejected previous bids as being too low. The September bid, for example, was valued at £10.2bn. On 19 January 2010, however, after heated negotiations the board accepted the latest offer by Kraft valued at £11.5bn ($19bn).
But is the deal good news? Or will what is sweet for senior management and the financial institutions which brokered the deal be dark bitter news for the main stakeholders – consumers, workers and shareholders? The following articles explore the issues.
Cadbury battle ends with midnight handshake Financial Times, Lina Saigol (19/1/10)
Cadbury takeover: a crafty bit of business or an overpriced confection? Telegraph, Jonathan Sibun (20/1/10)
Cadbury’s sweet City deal leaves a bitter taste in Bournville Guardian, Heather Stewart and Nick Mathiason (19/1/10)
Thousands of Cadbury jobs under threat as Kraft swallows a British icon (including video) Times Online, Helen Nugent and Catherine Boyle (20/1/10)
Cadbury deal ‘the price of globalisation’ Financial Times, Jenny Wiggins and Jonathan Guthrie (19/1/10)
Cadbury sale ‘right thing to do’ FT video (19/1/10)
Bitterness as Kraft wins Cadbury Independent, Nick Clark (20/1/10)
The winners: Management duo in line for bumper pay packet from takeover deal Independent, Nick Clark (20/1/10)
Kraft came hunting in the only country that would sell – Britain Independent, James Moore (20/1/10)
Kraft’s takeover leaves a bitter taste in the mouth Telegraph, Tracy Corrigan (19/1/10)
A sweet deal – or a takeover that is hard to swallow? Independent, Hamish McRae (20/1/10)
Cadbury: banks are the real winners BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (20/1/10)
Warren Buffett blasts Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury Guardian, Graeme Wearden (20/1/10)
Cadbury says job cuts inevitable after Kraft takeover (including videos) BBC News (19/1/10)
Cadbury and the open market theory: they’d better be right Guardian blog, Michael White (20/1/10)
The Business: Bonus season and the Cadbury takeover Guardian podcast, Aditya Chakrabortty
How did Quakers conquer the British sweet shop? BBC News Magazine, Peter Jackson (20/1/10)
Why Kraft must keep organic cacao farmers sweet Guardian blog, Craig Sams (20/1/10)
- What were the incentives for the Cadbury board to accept the proposed offer by Kraft?
- Do such incentives lead to the efficient operation of markets?
- Explain what is meant by ‘competition for corporate control’. To what extent is such competition in the interests of consumers?
- What economies or diseconomies of scale are likely to result from the takeover? What will determine the extent to which changes in costs are passed on to the consumer?
- How will the following stakeholders fare from the takeover, both in the short run and in the long run: (a) consumers; (b) workers; (c) shareholders?
- Examine Warren Buffet’s arguments for rejecting the deal.