US Justice Department Investigates Verizon And AT&T Over eSIM Blocking Collusion

The United States Department of Justice is about to go on a trust-busting escapade. The Justice Department is investigating whether AT&T, Verizon, and the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) collectively prevented consumers from switching carriers on devices with eSIM. The three organizations reportedly received requests for information from the Justice Department.

The investigation centers around whether AT&T and Verizon worked with GSMA to lock devices to their networks. An unnamed device maker and wireless carrier reported the potential collusion to the Justice Department five months ago. Many believe that one of the complainants was Apple, but the company has declined to comment.
us department of justice
United States Department of Justice; Image from Coolcaesar; CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

eSim technology allows users to switch wireless carriers without need to insert a physical SIM card into a new device. The technology was first introduced in smartphones with Google’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. The Samsung Gear S2 Classic 3G was the first device to incorporate a GSMA-certified (ironically one of the accused) eSim. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and multiple international wireless carriers have adopted the eSim over the last two years.

All three carriers have confirmed the existence of this investigation. A GSMA spokesperson commented that the institution is “cooperating fully with the Department of Justice in this matter” while AT&T stated that they were “working to move this issue forward.” Verizon spokesperson Rich Young argued that the investigation was regarding “a difference of opinion with a couple of phone equipment manufacturers regarding the development of eSIM standards” and was “much ado about nothing.”

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Image from Mike Mozart; CC 2.0 Generic License 

Ferras Vinh, the Policy Counsel for the Open Internet Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, argued that the potential collusion “would limit choice for consumers and harm competition.” Makal Delrahim, the United States Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division, recently stated that the Justice Department will work to prevent corporations and organizations from “fixing prices, or excluding particular competitors or products.” The Justice Department is also currently suing to block a merger between AT&T and Time Warner. They contend that this merger is anti-competitive and would lead to higher prices for consumers. The case is arguably the largest antitrust trial in years and this additional investigation could add fuel to the trust-busting fire.