Report: EU investigating Apple's iPhone agreements with mobile operators

The European Commission has sent a questionnaire to mobile operators

The European Commission has sent a questionnaire to a number of mobile operators in the European Union, focusing on whether its distribution terms with these providers may put Apple at an advantage over other smartphone makers, according to a newspaper report.

"The Commission has information indicating that Apple and Mobile Network Operators ("MNOs") have concluded distribution agreements which may potentially lead to the foreclosure of other smartphone manufacturers from the markets," the nine-page questionnaire states, The Financial Times reported Sunday.

The commission referred to the possibility that certain technical functions are disabled on certain Apple products in certain countries in the EU and the European Economic Area, which if confirmed could constitute an infringement of antitrust law. The questionnaire also probes operators on Apple's sales practices, including whether they are required to buy a minimum number of phones, and are required to always offer Apple no worse subsidies and sales terms than other smartphone vendors, according to the newspaper.

The European inquiry, based on private complaints from some mobile operators, is at a preliminary stage, and would require that Apple be found to be dominant in the EU smartphone market, the newspaper said.

Apple could not be immediately reached for comment. The company was questioned last week in the U.S. by a Senate subcommittee looking into charges that the company avoided tax by diverting profits to subsidiaries in Ireland. Apple said it did not break the laws.

Samsung Electronics became the top smartphone manufacturer in Europe in April last year, a position it has maintained through the rest of the year, Web and mobile usage tracking firm comScore said in February. The South Korean company had a 32.3 percent share of the market by December, followed by Apple with 20.5 and Nokia with 16.3 percent.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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John Ribeiro

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