As a student concerned about freedom of choice in the increasingly important computer market, I am writing to urge the campus administration not to enter into any large-scale software licensing deals with Microsoft. By selling its products to colleges and universities at heavily reduced prices, Microsoft guarantees itself an on-campus software monopoly. It does not make sense for a school to use student tuition fees to limit the product choices available to students, yet this is exactly what a volume deal with Microsoft does.
Microsoft's recently announced Campus Licensing Agreement will provide everyone on participating campuses with the Microsoft Windows operating system and the Microsoft Office suite of applications for only $48-54 per faculty and $13-19 per student. In addition, Microsoft has signed special deals with such institutions as the University of Texas and the Indiana State Nniversity to provide their students with Office software for as little as $5 per student. Microsoft calls this an act of generosity, which proves their "commitment to higher education." In reality, this generosity costs Microsoft next to nothing -- merely the cost of reproducing the disks on which the software is distributed. Any competing software vendor who cannot afford to flood the market with software at a similarly low price is effectively shut out of the campus market.
Microsoft's methods may constitute "dumping," a monopolistic, anticompetitive practice outlawed under federal anti-trust laws. Microsoft is currently under investigation by the Justice Department and several state Attorneys General for violation of these laws. If federal and state governments suspect Microsoft of monopolistic practices which eliminate competition and stifle innovation, why should our institution promote those practices by handing Microsoft a monopoly right here on campus?
Colleges and universities are centers for innovation and creativity, as well as training grounds for the workforce. If students do not have the freedom to choose which software allows them to best express their creativity and unlock their potential, our future economy will suffer. If a class of students graduates college with experience and training on only one manufacturer's software products, they will be at a distinct disadvantage in a job market which requires a multitude of software skills.
Before handing Microsoft the keys to our school's information technology, let's look carefully at the impact that such a purchase would have on the choices available to students. Please don't use our tuition money to limit our choices.
(Written by Mitch Stoltz,
for NetAction, 9/28/98)
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