France probes Apple’s iPhone contracts with carrier partners

Apple Store (France, Paris, Opera exterior 001)

Apple is yet again under investigation. An arm of France’s finance ministry is probing how the iPhone maker contracts with French cell phone carriers.The examination comes less than a week after Apple released two new smartphones, the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the administrative section of the country’s finance department is “investigating the terms of contracts between cellphone suppliers and French phone operators for the sale of devices such as the iPhone.”

“For operators, handsets have become one of the big expenses,” an insider told WSJ Wednesday.

In many countries, Apple contracts with carriers to sell a set number of its smartphones. Carriers then discount the price of those handsets to attract customers. At one point, US-based Verizon reported potentially owing the iPhone maker $14 billion for unsold handsets.

This latest probe is part of a wider investigation by France as it and other European nations question whether power is shifting from local carriers to American companies, such as Apple, providing various services. An independent investigative arm of France’s government has spearheaded two investigations into Apple’s practices.

Over the summer, Apple offices were raided during a probe into unfair competition with French resellers of Apple products. Another probe centered on App Stores and whether they posed antitrust concerns. The U.S. Justice Department already has won an antitrust case against Apple’s “agency” pricing model of e-books.

Apple is also under the eye of the European Union and its European Commission. The EU is interested in how Apple influences the nation’s wireless providers, which sell iPhones.

Image top of post: Apple’s Paris Opera house retail store.