House Sets Yahoo-Microsoft Hearing

A task force for the Judiciary Committe moves quickly in setting the Feb. 8 hearing, even though no deal has been struck. 

It didn't take long for Congress to get involved in Microsoft's proposed $44.6 billion offer for Yahoo.

The day after Microsoft's Feb. 1 offer, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee's Task Force on Antitrust and Competition announced a Feb. 8 hearing on the proposed takeover. Ostensibly entitled "State of Competition on the Internet," the hearing is clearly focused on the antitrust implications-if any-of the deal.

"Microsoft's bid to acquire Yahoo is certainly one of the largest technology mergers we've seen and presents important issues regarding the competitive landscape of the Internet," Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and ranking member Lamar Smith said in a joint statement.

Conyers and Smith said the panel would hear from as yet unnamed experts, "who will weigh in on whether this proposed consolidation works to further or undermine the fundamental principles of a competitive Internet."

Congressional hearings into proposed mergers are commonplace on Capitol Hill, although it is relatively rare to hold a hearing before any party has actually signed a deal. The hearings rarely have any impact on the ultimate merger approval decisions of agencies like the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.

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The hearing announcement probably prompted a few smiles at Google, which had to endure its own series of hearings about its $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick. The Federal Trade Commission approved that deal Dec. 12 after an eight-month investigation. The European Union is still investigating the Google-DoubleClick merger.

"Microsoft's hostile bid for Yahoo raises troubling questions," David Drummond, Google's top lawyer, wrote Feb. 3 on the company's blog. "This is about more than simply a financial transaction, one company taking over another. It's about preserving the underlying principles of the Internet: openness and innovation."

Providing the House Judiciary members fodder for the Feb. 8 hearing, Drummond openly speculates about the potential impact of the deal: "Could the acquisition of Yahoo allow Microsoft-despite its legacy of serious legal and regulatory offenses-to extend unfair practices from browsers and operating systems to the Internet?"