AT&T, Verizon face DOJ probe amid collusion allegations


(VZ) are under investigation by USA antitrust officials over whether the companies colluded to make it tougher for consumers to switch wireless carriers, Bloomberg reported citing three people familiar with the matter. The new chips would allow people to switch carriers by simply messaging their old and new carriers, with no need for having to insert a new SIM card into the device. In a statement, a Verizon spokesman said that this is all about "a difference of opinion with a couple of phone equipment manufacturers regarding the development of eSIM standards". The department issued demands to the companies and the GSMA, a mobile industry standards group, for information on possible collusion, the report said. The investigation was opened five months ago after Apple and an unnamed wireless carrier complained to the DOJ, according to Reuters.

However, Judge Richard Leon, who will decide if AT&T will be allowed to buy Time Warner, is unlikely to consider a report of potential wrongdoing by the wireless giant because it is irrelevant to the merger trial underway in Washington, said Seth Bloom, a veteran of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.

The investigation highlights a push by the Justice Department's antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, to crack down on the opaque world of intellectual property, or I.P., standards. A technology that would make it easier for consumers to switch carriers could be a blow to these companies' mobile businesses.

It is unclear as to who might have made the complaint to the US Department of Justice, but tweets from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman and Eric Newcomer have revealed that Apple could have been the one behind it.

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Verizon did respond to the matter, saying that it was all "much ado about nothing". The main benefit of eSIM technology is consumer freedom, which is exactly why certain telecommunication carriers have allegedly sought to block its adoption. We are striving to provide a better experience for the consumer. The investigation may also include other major American carriers, another person said.

For more than one year, the Justice Department has been examing SIM cards and phone portability, focusing on the largest carriers, AT&T and Verizon Communications.

Verizon claimed it needed to be able to lock down phones to prevent theft and fraud, but Ferras Vinh, a policy expert at the Center for Democracy and Technology noted: "The actions would limit choice for consumers and harm competition".