Apple's Contracts With European iPhone Carriers Examined for Potential Antitrust Issues
The New York Times reports that regulators with the European Union are taking a close look at contracts between Apple and its iPhone carrier partners, seeking to determine whether Apple's strict terms amount to anti-competitive behavior. In particular, Apple's practice of requiring carriers to commit to selling a certain number of iPhones has placed pressure on the carriers to promote the iPhone above other alternatives.
[S]ome of Apple’s competitors complain that the big purchases Apple requires from carriers strongly pressure them to devote most of their marketing budgets to the iPhone, leaving little money to promote competing devices, said an executive at one of Apple’s rivals, who declined to be named to avoid jeopardizing carrier relationships.
Apple’s practice of telling carriers how many phones they must sell and threatening to penalize them shows just how powerful the iPhone has become as a bargaining chip. Other manufacturers typically allocate fewer handsets to each carrier than they estimate it can sell to ensure that there is little, if any, leftover inventory, an executive at one rival handset maker said.
Carriers are of course not required to carry the iPhone, but customer demand for the device means that most carriers believe they have little choice and must agree to Apple's terms in order to remain competitive in the marketplace.
The European Commission has not yet launched a formal investigation of Apple over its contract terms, and it is unclear what its next steps will be, with spokesman Antoine Colombani simply noting that the competition regulators are "monitoring the situation". For its part, Apple says only that its contracts are compliant with all local laws.