Apple put under Europe's microscope after iPhone antitrust complaints

There's no formal investigation yet, but Europe's competition watchdog is looking at Apple's iPhone deals with the continent's mobile carriers.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Europe's competition watchdog is probing Apple's iPhone deals with mobile operators after receiving informal complaints that the agreements may violate competition rules.

The office of the EC's competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia has confirmed it is "monitoring the situation" surrounding Apple's carrier contracts, signalling it is treating seriously complaints from several carriers.

"The markets for smartphones and tablets are very dynamic, innovative and fast-growing. Samsung's growing market position and the success of Google's Android platform are good reasons to believe that competition is strong in the markets for smartphones and tablets. However, the Commission has been made aware of Apple's distribution practices for iPhones and iPads. There have been no formal complaints, though. The Commission is currently looking at this situation and, more generally, is actively monitoring market developments. We will intervene if there are indications of anticompetitive behaviour to the detriment of consumers," a spokesman for the commissioner said.

The competition regulator must investigate alleged violations of competition law if it receives a formal complaint, although it may open one independently as it did in the recently settled e-book price fixing investigation involving Apple. A formal complaint has not been filed.

Unnamed sources told the New York Times that the complaints focus on Apple's contracts with carriers in France and its preferential treatment towards larger carriers, although it may also include carriers from other markets in Europe.

Another issue is that in order to sell the phones, carriers must accept strict terms Apple that make it difficult to sell rivals' phones, including quotas and financial responsibility for iPhones not sold, the NYT said. However, as noted in the report, the last risk is largely theoretical, given the iPhone 5 was the top selling single device worldwide in the last quarter of 2012.  

An Apple spokeswoman said: "Our contracts fully comply with local laws wherever we do business, including the EU."

Consumer sales figures suggest Apple's share of smartphone market in the big five European countries is steady at around 25 percent

ZDNet has asked the office of the competition commissioner for comment will update the story if any comes in.

Europe's look into Apple's carrier deals comes as the European Commission considers pressuring member nations into enforcing rules over warranties on the company's products. Apple, which offers a one-year warranty on its kit, does not meet the minimum two-year protection required under Europe's consumer laws. However, enforcement is patchy: Denmark, Finland and Luxembourg are currently investigating the company, while only Bulgaria and Italy have imposed fines on Apple.

"In at least 21 EU countries Apple is not informing consumers correctly about the legal warranty rights they have. This is simply not good enough," the EC's digital commissioner Viviane Reding said in a speech this week.

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