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Tied sales and the good that competition regulation can do

Much of modern telecom regulation is about preventing the extension of market power for oligopolistic markets to relatively competitive markets. One method used to do this is bundling two products, one from the former and the other from the latter. Conventional antitrust envisaged both the products being sold for a price, or of one being given “free” with the other. In the case of the flurry of competition-law proceedings around Microsoft, one issue was the bundling of the Explorer browser (available for free download) with the Windows operating system.

Finally the consumers are being given an explicit choice at the behest of the European Commission, and they are taking it.

Rivals of Microsoft’s market-leading Web browser have attracted a flurry of interest since the company, fulfilling a regulatory requirement, started making it easier for European users of its Windows operating system to switch.

Mozilla, whose Firefox browser is the strongest competitor to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer worldwide, said that more than 50,000 people had downloaded Firefox via a “choice screen” that has been popping up on Windows-equipped computers in Europe since the end of last month. The screen displays links to a dozen browsers, including Explorer, Firefox, Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari and Opera.

Opera Software, based in Oslo, said downloads of its browser in Belgium, France, Britain, Poland and Spain had tripled since the screen began to appear.

“It’s definitely being taken up, so consumers are paying attention and taking advantage of the choice being offered to them,” said Thomas Vinje, legal counsel to the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, a lobbying group based in Brussels whose members include Opera.

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