Microsoft's rebuttal witness falls short

Qwest official admits he knows little about issues before court

April 30, 2002|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

WASHINGTON - A Qwest Communications International Inc. executive called to rebut testimony supporting tough antitrust restrictions on Microsoft Corp. acknowledged yesterday that he didn't know about the software giant's business plans.

Qwest Senior Vice President Gregg Sutherland was called to challenge testimony by an SBC Communications Inc. executive that remedies sought by nine states are needed to prevent Microsoft from squashing competition from providers of Internet-based services.

Microsoft is a shareholder in Qwest and is the primary Internet service provider for Qwest's Web customers.

John E. Schmidtlein, a lawyer for the nine states and the District of Columbia, asked Sutherland whether he had considered appeals court findings that Microsoft illegally protected its Windows monopoly for personal computer operating software.

"My testimony is not specific to Microsoft's past behavior on the Windows desktop," Sutherland said. "I have no special knowledge about Microsoft's plans."

Even before the cross-examination began, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly questioned Sutherland's qualifications to testify about Microsoft's plans because he had little experience in the Web services business before joining Qwest last year.

"I don't see how this general industry knowledge translates into personal knowledge on this discrete subject of Unified Messaging Service," the judge said.

The states sought to discredit Sutherland's qualifications to testify that Microsoft has no incentive to make its Internet software incompatible with competing Web-based services such as SBC Communications' Unified Messaging Service.

SBC executive Larry Pearson testified earlier that Microsoft's actions threatened the company's plans to offer customers the service.

When asked if Qwest is developing its own Web-based version of Unified Messaging Service, Sutherland said, "Not to my knowledge."

Sutherland conceded that he was not familiar with the technical details of Windows or Microsoft's business strategy to develop new products and services.

"Have you studied the marketing and development of products through the Windows operating system?" Schmidtlein asked.

"No," Sutherland replied.

Nor could Sutherland speak to the merits of the states' proposed antitrust remedies. "I have not formed an opinion about the remedies," Sutherland said. "My intention is to offer the court an understanding of how the communications world works."

Schmidtlein suggested that Qwest was motivated to support Microsoft because the software giant had invested $200 million in the telephone company and formed an alliance to provide Internet services to Qwest customers.

The states are challenging a proposed settlement of a 4-year- old antitrust suit against Microsoft.

They are seeking proposals that would force Microsoft to make broader disclosures of software code to prevent it from designing products that don't work with competitors' Internet services.

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