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Consumer group attacks Microsoft

The software giant has another enemy charging violationg of antitrust laws. But this time, it's not a company.

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Another Microsoft foe has stepped up the plate, accusing the software giant of violating antitrust laws. But this time, it's not a competing software company that is crying foul.

NetAction, a fairly young Internet-based consumer advocacy rights group, today launched a campaign to "mobilize cyberspace consumers to demand stronger enforcement of antitrust laws enacted to prevent monopolies."

NetAction has detailed its allegations on its Web page, hoping to get Netizens to pressure government officials into getting tough on Microsoft. The group is led by executive director Audrie Krause, the same woman who took on utility giants as head of a Northern California-based utility consumer advocacy organization.

"Microsoft is a threat to millions of consumers who use personal computers to communicate over the Internet," Krause said. "It's time to get serious about enforcing the laws against monopolies."

"To the extent that Bill Gates is able to take control of the industry, we will lose choices," she said. "We know what monopolistic behavior is like. We know what antitrust behavior is like. It's identifiable and treatable."

NetAction is not the first consumer advocacy group to take on Microsoft. In April, public interest attorney Anthony Martin asked that the Justice Department block the software giant's acquisition of WebTV based on antitrust issues.

Silicon Valley attorney Gary Reback has also led several legal challenges against Microsoft on behalf of competitors such as Netscape Communications.

But Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray called the latest accusations old at best and said the government already has examined and then dismissed them. "This really appears to be nothing more than a collection of tired old claims that have been investigated and resolved a long time ago," Murray said.

He added that the market, itself, proves that Microsoft is not anticompetitive. If it were, he said, innovation would slow and prices would rise. Instead, the market is going the other way.

But Krause argues that the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission have been continuously soft on Microsoft in the past and that it will take consumer pressure to force them to change.

She also countered Murray's statement that the market is still highly competitive. "Software companies are going out of business because of Microsoft," Krause said. "How many people are using Lotus anymore? Their operating system is in the vast majority of computers on the market."

While it's true that the government has repeatedly looked into antitrust charges against Microsoft, Krause said, the claims usually were filed by competitors, not consumers.

"From my point of view, my question is why hasn't there been anybody looking at this from a public interest view earlier," she said. "It's way past time for public interest groups to start speaking out."

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