If a proposed settlement between Microsoft Corp. and state officials is approved, North Carolina would become the fourth state whose poorest schools might benefit to the tune of millions of dollars in vouchers for technology-related equipment.

Microsoft has agreed to settle a class-action antitrust lawsuit in North Carolina by setting up an $89 million fund to reimburse customers and buying computer technology for poor schools.

The proposed settlement was made public June 13 at a court hearing in Raleigh before Judge Ben F. Tennille, who asked the lawyers to return for another hearing later this year when he will consider giving preliminary approval. He said he wanted to hear what the state Education Department thought about the plan.

The lawsuit accuses Microsoft of driving up prices by destroying competitors and monopolizing the market with software tied into its Windows desktop operating system.

Lawyers for Microsoft and the plaintiffs said if the settlement is approved, the money could be distributed by the end of this year.

The settlement would cover anyone who bought computers with Microsoft operating systems and its word-processing, spreadsheet, and office software in North Carolina between Dec. 9, 1995 and Dec. 31, 2002.

Qualified claimants could apply for vouchers of from $5 to $10 for each Microsoft product they own. Then they could buy any brand of upgrade hardware, software, or accessories—such as speakers and printers—from any vendor and submit the receipt to Microsoft along with the voucher for reimbursement.

Customers could submit claims for as many as five items without documentation.

Though individual customers are expected to recoup little, the vouchers could add up for large organizations such as companies and hospitals. The state government is not included in the agreement.

Half of any unclaimed money left in the fund would go to public schools that have at least half of their students in the free or reduced-price lunch program.

State officials in California, Florida, and Wyoming reached similar agreements with Microsoft earlier this year, though the Wyoming deal still awaits final judicial approval.

Links:

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction
http://www.dpi.state.nc.us