BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union's executive arm formally accused Microsoft on Wednesday of failing to comply with a binding agreement to give customers a choice among Internet browsers.
In 2009, the European Commission said it suspected Microsoft of using its dominant market position to foist its Internet Explorer browser on users. In negotiations, Microsoft agreed to create a screen where users could choose among competitors' browsers. The Commission accepted that concession and made the creation of a "browser choice screen" legally binding.
But in July, the Commission said the screen had not been displayed on many computers between February 2009 and July 2012, and millions of users may have been affected during that period. At the time, Microsoft said that a technical error was responsible.
EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said any breach would be a "serious infringement," noting that the settlement between the EU and Microsoft had allowed the company to avoid lengthy antitrust proceedings and being held liable.
"Companies should be deterred from any temptation to renege on their promises or even to neglect their duties," he said.
On Wednesday, the company apologized for the error and said it was working to make sure it didn't happen again,
"We take this matter very seriously and moved quickly to address this problem as soon as we became aware of it," Microsoft said in a statement. "Although this was the result of a technical error, we take responsibility for what happened."
Microsoft will now be given four weeks to respond to the formal complaint and can seek an oral hearing. Once it has assessed Microsoft's defense, the Commission will rule.
The company could face a fine of up to 10 percent of its annual revenue if found in breach of antitrust law.
South Korea has long boasted some of the world's fastest and most accessible Internet. <a href="http://news.cnet.com/2300-17938_105-10012951-5.html" target="_hplink">More than 94 percent of South Koreans</a> have high-speed connections. In addition, the South Korean government has pledged to give its citizens access to 1 Gigabit per second Internet by the end of this year -- or <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/technology/22iht-broadband22.html" target="_hplink">more than 200 times faster than the average household in the United States</a>. "South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do," he said during his <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2011" target="_hplink">2011 State of the Union address</a>.
In 2010, Finland became the first country in the world to make broadband access a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/14/finland-broadband-access_n_320481.html" target="_hplink">legal right for all citizens</a>. That right: every one of the country's 5.3 million people will have guaranteed access to a high-speed Internet connection. Meanwhile, in the United States, about 19 million people have no access to high-speed Internet where they live. Finland isn't stopping there. It plans to make lightning-fast 100-megabit broadband service a legal right by the end of 2015.
Swedish broadband is twice as fast and costs one-third the price of broadband in the U.S., <a href="http://newamerica.net/publications/policy/price_of_the_pipe" target="_hplink">according to a study by the New America Foundation</a>. In 2007, a 75-year-old woman from central Sweden <a href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=0CDwQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fslashdot.org%2Fstory%2F07%2F07%2F12%2F1236231%2Fworlds-fastest-broadband-connection-40-gbps&ei=l3RGUOzxDMjn0QGY3YDwCw&usg=AFQjCNEwTvCABgII17xzH-oyvMmMRVf0VQ" target="_hplink">made headlines</a> when she was given the world's fastest internet connection. She could download a full high-definition DVD in just two seconds.
Japanese has some of the cheapest connections in the world,<a href="http://www.oecd.org/internet/broadbandandtelecom/oecdbroadbandportal.htm" target="_hplink"> according to the OECD</a>. Japan's government has offered companies generous tax incentives to invest in fiber-optic cables. "The Japanese think long-term," a technology consultant told <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/03/business/worldbusiness/03broadband.html?pagewanted=print" target="_hplink">The New York Times in 2007</a>. "If they think they will benefit in 100 years, they will invest for their grandkids. There's a bit of national pride we don't see in the West."
"Consumer broadband prices in France are now among the most affordable in the world," <a href="http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/sites/cyber.law.harvard.edu/files/Berkman_Center_Broadband_Final_Report-Country_Overviews_15Feb2010.pdf" target="_hplink">according to a study</a> by Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. The study attributed the low prices to regulations that allow rival Internet providers to share access to broadband infrastructure. France is also one of several countries that have declared Internet access "<a href="http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,525993,00.html" target="_hplink">a basic human right</a>."