Taiwan to investigate Yahoo on antitrust concerns

The Internet giant raises charges on transaction fees--a month after archrival eBay exited the market.

Taiwan's Fair Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating Yahoo for possible antitrust violation after users complained about the company's new fee policy for its auction service.

The island's largest portal announced Tuesday that starting Aug. 10, it will charge users 3 percent of transaction fees on most of the auction items, in addition to current fixed fees for listing and various functions.

The move comes one month after archrival eBay threw in the towel in a losing battle against Yahoo, and instead formed a joint venture with PCHome, the third largest portal.

Reacting to complaints filed by dissatisfied users, the FTCsaid yesterday that it will look into the case and determine whether Yahoo is monopolizing the market and if it has manipulated prices.

"We'll need to decide whether Yahoo has a monopoly status in Taiwan's auction market." said Chen Rong-long, representative of the FTC.

"Yahoo will be fined for a maximum of $25 million Taiwan dollars (US$780,000) if the commission determines the company is manipulating the price with its monopoly power," he added.

According to local law, a company with an annual revenue of one billion Taiwan dollars (US$31 million) and owning at least one third of a specific market will qualify as a monopoly. Yahoo did not reveal its revenue number in Taiwan.

Defending Yahoo's move, Charlene Hung, Yahoo's director of e-commerce business service, said: "The new fee system will enable us to provide better service and more improvement to auction users."

As of July, Yahoo's auction site in Taiwan has more than 3.7 million items listed and the transaction value for 2005 was a total of $22 billion dollars (US$ 687 million), according to Hung.

Yahoo started charging users listing fees on its auction site on April 2004. At that time, a lot of users turned to eBay, which was a distant second behind Yahoo and did not charge fees.

"Those who left for eBay started [coming] back to us in three months," said Hung. "[This shows] this is where the auction sales can really be made."

With eBay's exit from the market earlier last month, Yahoo has become the biggest player on the market. Meanwhlie, eBay has said the new co-brand site is scheduled to debut later this year.

Julie Lin of CNET Taiwan reported from Taipei.