Verizon, AT&T fall on report DOJ is probing collusion

Department of Justice

Department of Justice

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 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 investigation is said to be focused on AT&T, Verizon and the GSM Association, a London-based group that represents the interests of wireless carriers globally, The New York Times reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.

In addition to making switching providers easier, eSIM could also allow people to use local carriers during worldwide travel and enable the space ordinarily reserved for SIM cards to be taken up by other phone systems. "Nothing more", Verizon said.

The Department and AT&T declined to comment on the report and Verizon could not be immediately reached for comment.

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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 IP, standards. Verizon has denied any wrongdoing. The spokesman characterized the DOJ collusion investigation as a WITCH HUNT "much ado about nothing".

Verizon has since issued a statement over the investigations, saying that they have been working with the US DoJ on the inquiry because of "a difference of opinion with a couple of phone equipment manufacturers regarding the development of eSIM standards". Under eSIM, user identification technology of a traditional SIM card is instead transferred to the device's processor or modem itself.

AT&T and Time Warner have disputed the claims in court.

The eSIM technology is supported by gadget makers including Apple, Google and Microsoft, as well as several wireless carriers globally and in the United States. Although there's no indication that Apple filed the complaint, the company has been at the forefront of eSIM adoption, using the technology in its iPads and the Apple Watch. The department issued demands to the companies and the GSMA, a mobile industry standards group, for information on possible collusion, said the people, who asked not to be named because the matter isn't public. This would make it impossible for customers to switch carriers and runs counter to the objective of eSIM.

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