US Senator Orrin Hatch wants to look past the "browser wars" and consider competition and antitrust issues in other software-related markets at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing called for this Thursday that will again put Microsoft in the congressional spotlight.
The committee will consider the broad topic "Competition in the Digital Age: Beyond the Browser Wars" at the hearing. A witness list has not yet been finalised, but the hearing is expected to focus particularly on Microsoft. Hatch, a Utah Republican and chairman of the powerful Senate committee, has been particularly publicly critical of Microsoft and the software giant's business practices.
Hatch's criticism has taken place against the backdrop of an antitrust lawsuit that the US Department of Justice and 20 state attorneys general filed against Microsoft on May 18. Witnesses in that case currently are being called to give depositions.
The battle over dominance of the Internet browser software market between Microsoft and Netscape Communications has been the main focus of the US government case against Microsoft and in the media. But according to a statement released by Hatch yesterday, "we should not allow preoccupation with this particular issue to prevent us from examining broader and more current issues which could have significant long-term consequences for the ability of US consumers to reap the rewards of a competitive and innovative software industry, and the continued growth of a free and open Internet."
The hearing witness list will be posted on the committee World Wide Web site at http://www.senate.gov/~judiciary/ when it is finalised.
"In the next century, it is likely that we will depend to a great extent on the Internet, intranets and other Internet-related technologies to communicate with one another, to conduct our businesses, to obtain news and entertainment, to teach our children and to purchase goods and services," Hatch said in the statement.
"All this will be made possible by the software which allows us to interconnect with, and share information over, this ever-expanding network. And there is little question that Microsoft, which now controls the PC software market, is seeking to extend its desktop monopoly in effect to control these other technologies and, to a large extent, the network itself. As a government and as a society, I think we must give close scrutiny to the nature, extent and ramifications of this development, and I believe this hearing will be an important step in this ongoing process," he said.
This will be the second time that the committee has conducted a hearing targeting Microsoft, whose Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Bill Gates, testified at the first session in March regarding his company's bundling of its browser software with the Windows operating system and about contracts with partners.
Gates said under questioning then from Hatch that Microsoft is not using its operating system as a means of dominating the Internet. Hatch isn't convinced of that and said last month that he believes Microsoft is using its operating system position to monopolise the Internet and electronic commerce. The senator also recently has expressed worries that Microsoft could transfer its market power into dominance in the TV set-top box market.
Hatch represents the home state of Microsoft rival Novell and as chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a long-time lawmaker, is one of the US Senate's most influential and powerful members.
Microsoft has called Hatch's comments and concerns regarding its attempts to monopolise other markets "groundless."