DOJ investigating AT&T and Verizon for collusion

REUTERS  Mario Anzuoni  File

The Department of Justice has launched an investigation into whether AT&T, Verizon and the GSM Alliance (GSMA) industry standards group may have colluded to make switching cell phone carriers more hard.

According to the sources cited, officials are looking into whether the two carriers, as well as telecom standards organization GSMA, colluded to make it harder for customers to switch providers. The potential collusion is over a technology called eSIM, which lets people remotely switch carriers without having to get a new physical SIM card. Verizon and AT&T allegedly conspired to circumvent the tech by working with GSMA to force a standard to still lock the devices - even if the phones had the eSIM technology. "The reality is that we have a difference of opinion with a couple of phone equipment manufacturers regarding the development of e-SIM standards". The DOJ's investigation could show that the companies along with the GSMA were trying to influence the development of this technology in order to maintain their market dominance.

"We are aware of the investigation into GSMA's process for developing eSIM standards that provide a better experience for consumers", AT&T said.

The investigation comes as the Justice Department is suing AT&T to block its $85 billion merger with Time Warner.

CNN's video below covers why the AT&T Time Warner trial matters.

Apple has been including eSIM technology in its iPads for some time now, and began offering it with its Series 3 cellular Apple Watches as well. It would also make it easier for people to use their devices while traveling for business.

The person also said the Justice Department previously examined this matter in 2016, but ended up dropping the investigation. The newspaper cites six people with knowledge of the inquiry and alleges the wireless carriers worked in coordination to make it more hard for people to switch carriers.

"The actions would limit choice for consumers and harm competition", said Ferras Vinh, a policy expert at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

"There is a constant problem with industry standards-setting organizations that on the one hand allow the industry to come together for the objective of efficiency but can be very anti-competitive and operate in secrecy", Feld said.

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