updated 03:07 am EDT, Mon May 27, 2013
Questionnaire asks if anti-competitive clauses in Apple contracts exist
The European Commission is looking into how Apple sells the iPhone in Europe, by asking carriers about their experience with the company. A questionnaire allegedly sent to carriers in the region asks if Apple's sales tactics are anti-competitive, a well as asking if Apple restricts the iPhone's use on some sort of technical level.
The nine-page questionnaire seen by the Financial Times queries if there is a compulsion from Apple to phone networks to buy a minimum number of iPhones, restrictions on marketing budgets, and if there are any clauses in sales contracts that force the carrier to pay subsides that at least match the best subsidies of its nearest rival.
It is also asked if Apple forces carriers to accept technical or contractual restrictions on the iPhone 5, denying specific functions from working, such as restricting its access to 4G networks. "If the existence of such behavior were to be confirmed, it might constitute an infringement of [antitrust law]," states the document, as well as noting that the Commission has received information about distribution agreements "which may potentially lead to the foreclosure of other smartphone manufacturers from the markets."
While the issuing of a questionnaire from the Commission for anti-competitive practices is a serious matter, it is not yet a full investigation. The questioning of carriers is a way for the Commission to collect evidence that builds upon private complaints from carriers, and is only a preliminary measure. In order to progress further, it needs to be sure that Apple has a dominant position in the European marketplace, something which is difficult to prove considering the popularity of some Android devices in the region.
Apple states its contracts are fully compliant with European laws, though they are not the only items under scrutiny. A section on supplier clauses asks if they are placed directly into contracts, or if they are asked for in "oral or written statements."
Carriers have up until June 17th to respond to the European Commission questionnaire.