Microsoft chief operating officer Bob Herbold said his company intends to continue to invest in cable TV and telecom companies in order to promote the roll out of networks that provide fast Internet access.
However, speaking at a news conference, Herbold said that Microsoft has no plans 'to buy' cable companies and that at some point it could sell its ordinary and preference shares in cable firms back to the market.
"We do not intend to buy cable companies. We buy shares in cable companies, sometimes common shares, sometimes preference shares in order to provide cash to these companies to build out networks," he said.
"We are anxious to talk to cable and telephone companies to build 'pipes'. We don't want to go into the cable business. But we want cable TV and telephone companies to build out 'pipes'," he said.
"We will invest In any country in the world where we see an opportunity to invest and help these countries to move faster. The intention is not to be in cable or telephone business," he said.
Herbold said it is "a shame" that European telephone costs are so high but noted how a number of Asian and European countries are investing "very agressively" in Internet technology and others will follow.
Asked about free provision of Internet services, such as in the UK, he said this is, "a promotional service and over time all service providers will use it. It is a very localised question and very transient."
Herbold said he has no plans to meet the European Commission on anti-trust issues during his visit here but declined to comment further on the US anti-trust case.
His comments came as Microsoft launched two Belgian portal sites on the Internet - one for French speakers, a second for Dutch - including with local newspaper groups.
He said the 'web lifestyle' is taking off with 153 million worldwide users in 1998, after Internet recorded 50 million consumers after only four years, compared to 38 years for radio and 13 for TV.
The next applications on the Internet will be Web audio, digital video, Internet telephony, the purchase of digital goods and eBooks, he said, noting that telephony should have a very good quality in one year.
On data protection demands, he said, "the industry is going to get a whole lot better on privacy, Microsoft is going to get a whole lot better on privacy," by introducing procedures over the next 18 months.
Herbold said Microsoft's Office 2000 product will include many more Web publishing tools while the industry's Biztalk effort will create greater interoperability between software for electronic commerce.
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