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2/4/2008
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Congress To Hold Antitrust Hearing On Microsoft's Yahoo Bid

House Judiciary chairman says proposed deal raises 'competitive' issues.

In a sign that Microsoft's proposed $44.6 billion takeover of Yahoo might run into regulatory opposition, members of the House Judiciary Committee said they would meet this week to mull the deal's antitrust implications.

"Microsoft's bid to acquire Yahoo is certainly one of the largest technology mergers we've seen and presents important issues regarding the competitive landscape of the Internet," said Judiciary chairman John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and ranking Republican Lamar Smith, R-Texas, in a joint statement released Friday.

The Judiciary Committee's Task Force on Antitrust and Competition Policy will give the proposed deal "a careful examination" at a hearing slated for this coming Friday, the statement said.

The committee will hear from experts -- as yet unidentified -- who will weigh in "on whether this proposed consolidation works to further or undermine the fundamental principles of a competitive Internet."

The deal's opponents could argue that the absorption of Yahoo into Microsoft would extend Microsoft's dominant position in the market for desktop software to the World Wide Web. It also would give the combined companies significant control of the market for Internet display advertising.

Together, Yahoo and Microsoft sites would serve up 25.5% of all display ads. The No. 2 player in the market, Fox Interactive, currently holds 16.3% of the market, according to ComScore. Google sites serve up just 1% of all display advertising.

Advocates of the merger, including Microsoft, might counter that the combination is the only viable way to prevent Google from monopolizing the markets for Internet search and search-driven ads.

Google commands 58.4% of the search market. Microsoft and Yahoo combined would hold 32.7%, according to ComScore.

"The combination of Microsoft and Yahoo will create a more competitive marketplace by establishing a compelling No. 2 competitor for Internet search and online advertising," Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said Sunday in a statement.

The U.S. government has in the past proven itself willing to enforce competition in the tech industry. The Department of Justice in 1998 launched an antitrust action against Microsoft that led to a settlement under which the software maker agreed to share certain technical documentation with rivals.

A federal judge last week extended court oversight of that settlement through November 2009.

Microsoft's plan to buy out Yahoo also is likely to draw intense scrutiny from Europe's competition watchdogs. The company has frequently butted heads with European Commission competition czar Neelie Kroes.

In October, Microsoft said it would not appeal $1 billion in antitrust fines levied by the EC after the commission found the company guilty of withholding interoperability information and illegally bundling Windows Media Player software with the Windows OS.

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