According to a New York Times article that landed Friday afternoon, the Department of Justice has opened an antitrust investigation into collusion between Verizon and AT&T’s wireless arms. According to the report, investigators suspect that the two companies worked together to make it harder for consumers to switch between networks, primarily by thwarting the adoption of electronic SIM cards, known as eSIM.
The technology, which is already available in Apple’s iPads, makes it possible to switch between carriers without having to change out a physical SIM. That would remove one of the biggest barriers to jumping between service providers, which in turn would encourage customers to switch networks depending on who has the best deals or features.
The Times report says that an investigation was opened “about five months ago,” after “at least one device maker and one wireless carrier filed formal complaints with the Justice Department.” 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. Rumors suggested that Apple wanted to use eSIM in the 2018 iPhone lineup, but wasn’t able to after pushback from carriers.
The report also says that investigators are looking at whether Verizon and AT&T worked with the GSMA, a telecoms industry body that’s made up of networks and handset makers from around the world. Investigators from the Justice Department reportedly issued demands for information from AT&T, Verizon, and the GSMA in February.
Harold Feld, the senior vice president of consumer group Public Knowledge, told the Times that AT&T and Verizon pushed for the ability to lock phones to their networks at a meeting of the GSMA North America sector earlier this year. The networks claimed they needed the locking ability in order to deter theft and fraud.
News of the investigation comes at the same time as the Justice Department is suing to block an acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T. In that instance, the Justice Department claims that control of key content will give AT&T leverage to use against competitors and streaming services to keep prices high.