* Fine concerns failure to provide browser choice in Europe
* Relates to earlier commitment to provide choice screen on
* Microsoft shares up slightly
(Adds Microsoft background, share price)
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS, Feb 28 EU competition regulators plan
to fine Microsoft Corp before the end of March in a
case tied to the U.S. software giant's antitrust battle in
Europe more than a decade ago, three people familiar with the
matter said on Thursday.
The European Commission had accused Microsoft in October
last year of breaking a promise to offer European consumers a
choice of rival browsers in the previous version of its Windows
The company made the pledge in 2009 to settle an EU
antitrust investigation and stave off a penalty that could have
been as much as 10 percent of its global revenue.
"The Commission is planning to fine Microsoft before the
Easter break," one of the sources said, adding that it is
possible that procedural issues could push back the decision.
The size of the fine could be significant because this is
the second time that Microsoft has failed to comply with an EU
The spokesman for competition policy at the Commission,
Antoine Colombani, declined to comment.
Microsoft, whose shares were up slightly in afternoon
trading, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The Commission has sanctioned Microsoft to the tune of 1.6
billion euros ($2.1 billion) to date for not providing data at
fair prices to rivals, requiring software developers to create
products to work with its products, and for tying its media
player to its operating system.
The EU antitrust authority has said that the latest offence
occurred between February 2011 and July 2012. Microsoft has
blamed it on a technical error, saying that it has since
tightened internal procedures to avoid a repeat.
The matter did not escape the notice of Microsoft's board,
which cut the bonus of chief executive Steve Ballmer last year,
partly because of the Windows division's failure to provide a
browser choice screen as required by the European Commission,
according to its annual proxy filing in October.
Microsoft's share of the European browser market has roughly
halved since 2008 to 24 percent in January, below the 35 percent
held by Google's Chrome and Mozilla's 29 percent share,
according to Web traffic analysis company StatCounter.
Microsoft's shares were up 12 cents at $27.93 on Nasdaq.
($1 = 0.7649 euros)
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee, additional reporting by Bill Rigby;
Editing by David Goodman and Nick Zieminski)