US FTC Modifies Intel Antitrust Settlement Order

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has amended a settlement order in an antitrust case against Intel by exempting a planned chipset for netbooks from requirements that they include an interface with the open standard PCI Express Bus.

The amended order, released by the FTC Tuesday, exempts the Oak Trail chipset from the PCIe interface rules, because Intel began production on it before the Aug. 4 settlement agreement was reached, the FTC said in a press release. The amended order allows Intel to ship the Oak Trail chipset, for use only in fanless netbooks, until June 2013.

The FTC also rejected proposed changes to the settlement made by competitor Via Technologies and eight other people or groups who filed comments on the original order. The settlement prohibits Intel from giving computer makers benefits for exclusively using its chips and from retaliating against computer makers if they do business with other suppliers.

Intel announced the Oak Trail chipset on June 1. A variant of the Moorestown package Intel released in May, Oak Trail includes the low-power Lincroft version of the Atom processor.

The FTC filed an antitrust complaint against Intel in December, saying the company had abused its dominance in the chip market and carried out a "systemic campaign" of threats and rewards to coerce computer makers into using fewer chips from Via and Advanced Micro Devices.

The settlement will allow Intel to end the distraction and expense of the FTC litigation, a company spokesman said. Intel did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

"As we said when this agreement was first announced, it provides a framework that will allow Intel to continue to compete and to provide customers with the best possible products at the best prices," said Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy. "In short, we are happy to have this behind us."

Twelve people or groups filed comments after the FTC released the proposed settlement in August, although not all of the groups proposed changes to the settlement. Two of the 12 complained that Intel did not receive a fine for its alleged antitrust practices. The FTC does not have authority to impose antitrust fines, the agency said in letters to those two people.

Via Technologies called for several changes in the settlement, including more specific language outlining limited situations when Intel can deny a license of its technology to competitors. The FTC rejected Via's suggestions.

ARM, a maker of processors for mobile devices, called on the FTC to extend the settlement order to Intel business practices in all markets, not just X86-based processors for PCs, laptops, netbooks and servers. "The exclusionary and unfair conduct alleged in the complaint are contrary to the consumer's interests whenever those practices occur," the company wrote.

Longtime Intel critic Mike Bruzzone called on the FTC to reject the settlement in his 178-page comment. "Proposed consent agreement in current form misses harms, leaving incomplete and nonexistent remedies which promote Intel market monopolization, system rigs and consumer harms," he wrote.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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