Japanese antitrust regulators weigh action against Apple, carriers

Japan's Fair Trade Commission is eyeing Apple's iPhone supply agreements with the wireless carriers it works with there, according to Reuters.

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New phones are on display at a Softbank store in Tokyo on September 16, the day the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus launched around the world.

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Apple's smartphone business may be big in Japan but antitrust regulators there are said to be considering taking action against the tech giant for possible violations.

Japan's Fair Trade Commission said last month that three wireless carriers that Apple works with wouldn't sell surplus inventory of older iPhones to small retailers, which hurt those third parties' ability to compete. On Friday, a Reuters report citing unnamed government officials said the FTC has also zeroed in on Apple's agreements with the carriers to supply them with phones. The carriers named in the August FTC report are KDDI Corp., NTT Docomo and Softbank Group.

Reuters sources also said the carriers buy iPhones in bulk and sell them at a lower cost -- compared with, say, Samsung devices -- giving Apple a competitive advantage.

"The actions of the three operators alone do not account for the state of the market," one of the officials told Reuters. "We are getting closer to taking action."

Apple declined to comment. A KDDI spokesperson said, "We tried to do appropriate business based on instruction by [the] Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications or various guidelines." Japan's Fair Trade Commission didn't respond to a request for comment. NTT Docomo and Softbank Group also didn't respond to a request for comment.

In July, Apple reported that quarterly revenue dropped in every region except Japan. There, sales rose 23 percent to $3.5 billion.

Update, September 27, 10:05 a.m. PT: Added a comment from KDDI.