Exclusive: Japan's antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers - sources

Fri Sep 23, 2016 6:07am EDT
 
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By Yoshiyasu Shida

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese regulators are considering taking action against Apple Inc over possible antitrust violations that may have helped it dominate the nation's smartphone sales, government sources said, a move that could hit the company's profit margins in one of its most profitable markets.

In a report published last month, Japan's Fair Trade Commission (FTC) said that NTT Docomo, KDDI Corp and Softbank Group were refusing to sell older surplus iPhone models to third party retailers, thereby hobbling smaller competitors.

Apple was not named in that report, but two senior government sources told Reuters that regulators were also focusing on Apple's supply agreements with all three carriers.

Under those deals, surplus stock of older iPhones is kept out of the market and sent to overseas markets, such as Hong Kong, according to industry sources.

The carriers, locked in a costly battle to win consumers who covet iPhones, also bulk purchase the Apple smartphones and sell them at a discount, which gives the U.S. company an advantage over rivals such as Samsung Electronics Co, according to the two government officials and an industry source.

Both iPhone 7 and Samsung's Galaxy S7 edge model sell for 93,960 yen ($932) under Docomo's main service package without any contract, but the cost for the iPhone drops sharply to 38,232 yen with a two-year contract, while the Galaxy falls to 54,432 yen.

When asked about the antitrust concerns, Apple forwarded a link to a webpage published at the time of the Aug. 2 FTC report that says it has created or supports 715,000 jobs in Japan with Japanese-based developers raking in more than $9 billion in revenue from Apple apps since 2008. It did not comment further.

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Daiki Shimizu tries an Apple Watch Series 2 after it went on sale at the Apple Store at Tokyo's Omotesando shopping district, Japan, September 16, 2016.    REUTERS/Issei Kato