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Tuesday, January 04, 2011, 02:00 pm PT (05:00 pm ET)

Dutch iPhone carrier challenging Apple's exclusive European contracts

National Dutch phone carrier KPN has reportedly decided that Apple's exclusive iPhone contract with Mobistar in Belgium is illegal, and has begun offering the iPhone in Belgium through its Base subsidiary.

KPN is Apple's exclusive carrier in the Netherlands, but has been unable to negotiate a contract to sell the iPhone in neighboring Belgium (where it operates Base as that country's third largest carrier) because of Apple's exclusive deal with Mobistar.

Mobistar (not to be confused with the Spanish carrier Movistar) has been Apple's exclusive partner in Belgium since it began offering the iPhone 3G in July 2008, being among the 22 countries involved in Apple's global launch program.

KPN's Base "pretends now that it is still able to sell dutch iPhones in Belgium due to the fact that there are no borders any more between the different European countries," Guy Hans in Belgium notes.

"BASE pretends that the exclusive contract that Apple signed are illegal and in contradiction with common European laws," Hans said. "Since its mother company obtained the exclusive rights for the iPhone sales in the Netherlands, BASE estimates that it is allowed to import iPhones from the Netherlands into Belgium.

"Up to now, Apple has declined to comment on this development, which could change their contracts throughout the European continent."

Starting in 2007, Vodafone challenged Apple's exclusive carrier partnership in Germany. Similar conflicts arose in France shortly afterward, and have continued throughout Europe since.

Apple has since expanded its carrier support from its initial exclusive contracts in a number of countries, including allowing Vodafone to sell the iPhone without exclusivity in Australia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, Italy, India, Portugal, New Zealand, South Africa, and Turkey.

A variety of countries now have a choice in iPhone carriers, with a notable exception being the US, where it remains tied to AT&T. That is expected to change early this year as Verizon gains access to a version of iPhone 4 that is compatible with its network. Other US carriers are not expected to be able to sell either the new CDMA or the existing UMTS version however.