European Competition Commissioner Mario Monti has expressed concern at Microsoft’s planned expansion in British cable television, inferring that the company is not trustworthy and poses a threat to the development of interactive digital TV.

Despite power lobbying by Microsoft to win the thumbs-up for its joint takeover (with AT&T subsidiary Liberty Media Group) of UK cable network Telewest Communications, Signor Monti has issued a formal statement of objections, reiterating and expanding upon concerns aired by the EC in March.

The US duo have bid $3 billion for joint control of Telewest, each proposing a 29.7% stake. If the deal goes through, says Monti, it will enable Microsoft to create a technical stranglehold on interactive TV, internet and e-commerce services offered by cable. It could also strengthen Telewest's already dominant position within its local franchise area. Microsoft already holds non-controlling stakes in the UK’s two other main cable operators - NTL and Cable & Wireless Communications.

Microsoft’s response was oft-practised. A Paris-base spoke described Signor Monti's letter as an "expected part" of the antitrust approval process: "We'll continue to work with the Commission to address its concerns. We're very committed to this deal, which is a good thing for consumers."

The EC, which has been highly supportive of the US Justice Department's recent action against Microsoft, confirmed that it too is investigating the software company for other possible anti-trust violations, including the launch of its Windows 2000 operating system.

News source: Wall Street Journal