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VMware Pursuit Brings Broadcom’s ‘Illegal’ Past Into Focus

O’Ryan Johnson

Earlier this year, Nvidia said regulatory scrutiny forced it to back out of a $40 billion deal to acquire fellow chip maker ARM, and now some of those same forces are reportedly taking a closer look at Broadcom’s potential purchase of VMware.

European antitrust regulators – who torpedoed a mega-merger between Nvidia and ARM earlier this year — have frequently tangled with San Jose, Calif.-based chip giant Broadcom, calling its past behavior “at first sight to be illegal” and submitting the company to a seven-year global agreement to avoid prosecution for anti-competitive practices.

Now those same regulators are reportedly examining Broadcom’s purchase of VMware, The $61 billion proposed merger was annoucned by Broadcom on May 26.

Every acquisition Broadcom has made since 2015 has needed approval from the European Commission, the enforcement arm of the European Union. Each one of Broadcom’s acquisitions were investigated and ultimately approved by the commission, starting with the purchase of Broadcom by Avago in 2015, then Brocade, CA, and Symantec Enterprise Security.

Then in 2019, the commission accused Broadcom of violating antitrust laws by forcing buyers to use a certain percentage of its microprocessors to qualify for steep discounts, driving prices lower to ensure smaller competitors could not compete in the European chip market for modems and set-top cable boxes.

To avoid prosecution, in 2020 Broadcom suspended all such contracts globally, for seven years. To ensure its good behavior, the company must meet with regulators to show proof that it is complying with the agreement.

These same regulators last year opposed Nvidia’s deal with rival chip-maker ARM and launched a phase 2 inquiry into whether the $40 billion transaction could bottleneck chip supplies and force buyers into unfair agreements – just as it accused Broadcom of doing in 2019.

{RELATED STORY: BROADCOM SOFTWARE GROUP CUT R&D TO GROW ‘STRATEGIC ACCOUNTS’]

Government scrutiny of the Nvidia-ARM deal – which was underway at the U.S. Justice Department as well as in Europe — was cited when Nvidia-owner SoftBank announced the merger was dead in February.

Regarding the Broadcom and VMware deal, The Financial Times first reported in June that the European Commission planned to undertake a more thorough, phase two review. So far regulators in Brussels told CRN they have not yet taken any official action on the deal.

“This transaction has not been formally notified to the Commission,” the body said in response to an email. “If a transaction has an EU dimension, it is always up to the companies to notify it to the Commission.”

Broadcom though appears to be ready for a lengthy review by estimating it will close the VMware transaction before October 31, 2023.

Here is how the European Commission has weighed its Broadcom decisions since 2015:

 
O’Ryan Johnson

O’Ryan Johnson is a veteran news reporter. He covers the data center beat for CRN and hopes to hear from channel partners about how he can improve his coverage and write the stories they want to read. He can be reached at ojohnson@thechannelcompany.com..

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