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Justice Department investigating collusion among U.S. wireless carriers

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Justice Department investigating collusion among U.S. wireless carriers
The Justice Department is investigating an alleged case of collusion, but this has nothing to do with President Donald J. Trump and Russia. Instead, the DOJ requested information from all four major U.S. carriers back in February as the agency started an antitrust investigation into the wireless business. The Justice Department originally followed up on a complaint made by Apple in 2016, but ended up dropping the investigation. Apparently, the DOJ has reopened its collusion investigation.

According to reports, the carriers got together to put the kibosh on technology that would allow consumers to switch carriers without changing the SIM card on their phones. While the latest report from CNBC mentions that Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all received requests for information from the Justice Department, this morning's New York Times stated that the Justice Department was investigating Verizon, AT&T and the G.S.M.A. The latter is a trade group that represents the interests of mobile carriers.

According to the Times, Verizon and AT&T allegedly colluded with the G.S.M.A. to develop a telecom standard that would allow a carrier to lock a handset to its network even if the device is equipped with eSIM technology. With an eSIM embedded in a handset, the user doesn't have to swap a SIM card on a phone to change carriers. All the user needs to do is send one message to the new carrier and another to the old provider. Since Verizon and AT&T are the two largest wireless operators in the states, supporting eSIM technology could cause the pair to lose a number of subscribers.

Harold Feld, a senior vice president of the non-profit consumer group Public Knowledge, told the Times that he was briefed about a meeting for a task force called G.S.M.A. North America. Attending the meeting were both Verizon and AT&T, and the pair both argued for the ability to bypass eSIM technology and lock phones to their respective networks. Verizon supposedly claimed that it needed to lock down their phones as a way to prevent theft and fraud.

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 spokesman characterized the DOJ collusion investigation as a WITCH HUNT "much ado about nothing."

source: NYTimes, CNBC

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