EU mulls Apple antitrust probe over contracts

Telcos claim that Apple contracts with operators are too strict

The European Commission is deciding whether to launch an anti-trust investigation into Apple's contracts with European mobile phone operators.

Concerns have been raised by a group of European telecommunications operators, but no formal investigation has been launched, Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia's team said Friday.

The unnamed companies claim that the contracts Apple sets for selling its iPhone are too strict and possibly anti-competitive, but they stopped short of making a formal complaint. However, the Commission can launch an investigation without a complainant if it believes that an infringement may have taken place.

There is no time-limit on deciding a course of action. If Apple was found to have broken E.U. competition rules, the could Commission could fine the company up to 10% of its annual turnover.

IDC Research Director Francisco Jeronimo said that strict contracts are nothing new."Most operators in Europe have the iPhone so it would be difficult to prove anti-competitive behavior. But for operators it is much better to balance the power with other vendors because they don't want to be dependent on Apple," he said.

No one really knows what the terms of individual contracts are, he added.

Apple is the second-biggest player in Europe for smartphones, behind Samsung.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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