India's competition regulator has become one of the world's most active scrutinisers of technology companies. Google, Intel and Ericsson have recently come under the lens of the Competition Commission of India (CCI). It fined Google Rs 1 crore this week for not cooperating with investigations into online search practices. "If one looks at the number of technology companies that are under scrutiny in the country, the Competition Commission can easily be termed as active as the Federal Trade Commission, the European Commission and the Korea Fair Trade Commission, considered to be aggressive in the technology space," said an executive with a leading multinational technology company who did not wish to be identified. The commission has examined complaints by mobile handset makers Micromax and Intex against telecom equipment manufacturer Ericsson over intellectual property. Earlier this year, the regulator closed a probe into allegations by its distributor ESYS Information Technologies that chip maker Intel was abusing its dominant position. The commission's zeal to probe technology companies could be due to the number of complaints it receives. "These companies are often present on a different platform and use newer marketing strategies. We are trying to upgrade ourselves to be able to handle such cases," said Ashok Chawla, the commission's chairman. The fair trade watchdog, however, maintains it does not intend to single out industries. "Our role is to keep a check on any anti-competitive practice and we are focused on that," said another senior commission official.
Brick-and-mortar companies like DLF, Coal India and cement manufacturers, too, have been investigated and some of them have been fined. Asked how he intended to deal with online companies that do not have a physical presence in India, Chawla said, "Business and money are beyond boundaries. To keep tabs on anti-competitive practices, we can seek cooperation from authorities in other countries." He clarified the Facebook's $19-billion acquisition of WhatsApp might not need to be cleared by the Competition Commission. Section 32 of the Competition Act allows the regulator to coordinate with governments of other countries to enforce action against foreign companies that do not have assets in India. Micromax, Intex and Ericsson did not comment on their matter as it was in the court. Intel also declined to comment and ESYS Information Technologies could not be reached. A Google spokesperson said in an emailed response its case was under investigation by the director-general of the Competition Commission and "we continue to extend our full cooperation to the CCI, answering their questions thoroughly and thoughtfully".