USA said to investigate AT&T, Verizon over wireless collusion claim

The New York Times today reported that the Justice Department opened an antitrust investigation into the two largest US carriers, as well as the GSMA trade group responsible for setting cellular standards.

The eSIM technology would make it easier for people to use local carriers when traveling internationally and would free up storage space in devices to use for other technologies.

The antitrust division is looking into whether or not carriers colluded in stifling technology that allows customers to switch providers without having to change out their SIM card. The latter is a trade group that represents the interests of mobile carriers.

The probe centers on whether Verizon and AT&T sought to establish standards that would allow carriers to lock devices to their networks even if they had embedded eSIM technology - and whether they unfairly sought to maintain their market positions, hurt consumers or competition or curb wireless innovation.

The technology lets people remotely switch wireless providers without having to insert a new SIM card into a device. Read the NY Times report here.

GMSA and the Justice Department declined to comment.

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Nonetheless, the smartphone industry, both in the United States and overseas, has largely hardened around the practice of requiring users to physically remove a SIM card from one provider in order to switch to another.

While the Justice Department is investigating AT&T and Verizon, it sent letters to the four major carriers when it opened the probe in February, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

AT&T and Verizon together account for more than 70 percent of the U.S. wireless subscribers.

In a statement, a Verizon spokesman confirmed that the carrier had been working with the Justice Department for several months on the inquiry because of "a difference of opinion with a couple of phone equipment manufacturers regarding the development of eSIM standards".

The investigation comes as the Justice Department is suing AT&T to block its $85 billion merger with Time Warner. He said the issue was "much ado about nothing".

The U.S. government has argued in a trial that is nearing completion that the proposed deal would spur AT&T to charge its pay TV rivals more for Time Warner content.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)

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