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27 states go against Microsoft

Twenty-seven states file a brief in federal appeals court in Washington supporting the Justice Department's antitrust action against Microsoft.

Twenty-seven states filed a brief in federal appeals court in Washington today supporting the Justice Department's antitrust case against Microsoft.

The brief follows a face-to-face meeting last week between state attorneys general and Justice Department officials in San Francisco about possibly joining forces against the software giant, first reported by CNET's NEWS.COM.

It also comes on the heels of a court brief filed on See legal brief: 27 states support DOJ behalf of the Justice Department today, in which the DOJ told a U.S. appeals court that Microsoft broke a promise and used monopoly power to force its Web browsing software on personal computer makers. (See related story)

"The competitive health of computer markets may be threatened by the practices of a dominant firm, such as Microsoft, which could prevent competing and potentially competing products from getting a fair market test," the attorneys general said in a statement.

"While federal and state antitrust laws may have originated in an era of smokestacks, the attorneys general are confident that in an age of software and the 'digital revolution' such laws retain the power, if vigorously enforced and wisely applied, to foster vibrant, competitive markets; consumer choice; welfare innovation; and economic growth," the group said in its court filing.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the DOJ's position.

"Microsoft is exercising its monopoly power in the operating systems market to leverage such monopoly power to the Internet browser market sector in order to unfairly increase its share of the browser market by forcing OEMs to license its Internet Explorer as a condition of licensing Microsoft's Windows operating system," the group, whose members include AT&T, Amdahl and Tandem Computers, and Tandem, said in their filing.

The CCIA's stand was not a surprise. Last November, it filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Justice Department.

"We support, as shown by the brief filed today, the Department of Justice's ongoing investigation into the bundling of Microsoft's Web browser to its seemingly ubiquitous Windows 95 software," added New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco in a statement. "Certain attorneys general are simultaneously looking into the competitive questions surrounding Windows 98."

"Microsoft is stifling competition in clear violation of the law and plainly contrary to consumer interests," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a statement. "There should be no 'quid pro quo' when it comes to products that are vital to a free flow of information."

Blumenthal told NEWS.COM that the group filed the brief in order "to demonstrate the states' support for the federal government's position on the facts and the law" of the case. He added that a continuing multistate investigation is examining a host of Microsoft practices, including "the kind of tying or coupling of products that may permit market dominance in one of them" to be extended to the other.

The states joining are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The meeting comes as Microsoft faces antitrust challenges on an increasing number of fronts. In addition to the Justice Department's high-profile action alleging that Windows 95 licensing requirements violate terms of a 1995 antitrust settlement, the agency is investigating a broad assortment of the company's business practices, including deals it has struck with Internet service providers, content providers, and streaming software firms.

Competition enforcers from Japan and Europe also have begun inquiries into the software giant, and a private suit by Caldera--which acquired the rights to DR-DOS--has alleged that Microsoft quashed the once-competitor to MS-DOS by using anticompetitive measures. The Senate Judiciary Committee is also holding a series of hearings on competition in the computer industry, and so far Microsoft has been a major focus. (See related story)

Dan Goodin contributed to this report from Washington.