A European Commission (EC) antitrust inquiry into Microsoft's investments in European cable companies has been wound down after the company promised to modify existing technology pacts with two digital cable operators.
'Microsoft has agreed to modify its relationship with two partner companies in order not to exercise undue influence over their choice of set-top box technologies,' the EC said in a statement, following the 10-month investigation.
The EC's investigation looked into three of Microsoft's strategic investments in the burgeoning Euro-cable market - with Dutch company UPC, the UK's NTL and Portuguese company TV Cabo.
Two of these investments - with NTL and UPC - were linked to the formation of a joint technology board that made binding recommendations related to the technology decisions of the cable company. This caused concerns about competition in the European set top box technology industry.
Although it disagreed that the recommendations of the boards were ever compulsory, Microsoft today agreed that recommendations made by the technology boards would not be binding.
'We believe that the contract terms are fair and lawful and did not provide that there is any binding decision-making,' John Frank, Microsoft's Director Europe, Middle East and Africa for Law and Corporate Affairs, told Reuters.
``But rather than disagree with the Commission about it, it just seemed easier to resolve the matter by making these changes,'' he said.
It also abolished one joint technology board completely, and will mould another into an 'industry technology forum' which will be open equally for competing set top box technology suppliers. It was not clear whether the discontinued technology board would be with NTL or UPC.
The investigation comes after Microsoft last year bowed to EC regulators and agreed to reduce a joint controlling position in UK cable TV operator Telewest to a minority investment, following a similar investigation.
'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,' an EC statement said. 'Obviously, the Commission 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 the consumers on fair and equal terms.'