U.S. Department of Justice is Investigating Verizon, AT&T, and Others Over Possible Collusion to Prevent Customers From Easily Switching Carriers

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If you live in the United States and have tried to switch between mobile carriers, then you have probably discovered that it’s not always the easiest thing to accomplish.

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has decided to look into that, as first reported by The New York Times. According to the publication, the DOJ is currently in the process of investigating several different entities in the United States over possible collusion in preventing customers from being able to switch carriers easily.

The GSM Association, which is a group that sets mobile standards in the U.S., along with Verizon and AT&T, are all part of the investigation. The DOJ is working to weed out if these companies have conspired behind-the-scenes to keep customers from moving to one carrier to the other. It’s not a secret that Verizon and AT&T are the two largest wireless carriers in the U.S.

The documentation reveals that these two carriers, along with the GSMA, have worked together to prevent the adoption of embedded SIM cards, or eSIMs. These embedded SIMs would make it easier for customers to swap between carriers, because the card itself could be altered to support whatever carrier the customer wanted. Unlike current SIM cards, they are designed not to be removed.

“At the heart of the investigation is whether the nation’s biggest wireless carriers, working with the G.S.M.A., secretly tried to influence mobile technology to unfairly maintain their dominance, in a way that hurt competition and consumers and hindered innovation in the wider mobile industry.

AT&T and Verizon together control about 70 percent of all wireless subscriptions in the United States. A technology that made it easy to switch carriers could lead to more churn and fewer subscribers for them.”

Verizon, for its part, has argued that phones need to be locked to its carrier to prevent fraud and theft. However, it should be worth noting here that Verizon is only recently changing its policy in regards to unlocked smartphones. In February of this year it was announced that the largest wireless carrier in the U.S. that it would start locking down its phones, reciting that theft and fraud excuse. Up until that point, Verizon’s smartphones have been unlocked — making it, technically, to switch carriers with a Verizon smartphone.

As far as eSIMs are concerned, both Verizon and AT&T are both being investigated for working to get these cards locked to carriers, crippling the idea of the card by locking them to individual carriers. Both carriers reportedly worked with the GSMA to reach that goal. Representatives from both networks met with GSMA North America, what is a private task force, earlier this year to advocate for this particular goal.

Apple, which launches devices that support SIM cards and is rumored to be moving to an eSIM card as well, wants a shift. It has already launched the “Apple SIM”, which is a designed to make it possible for customers to easily switch from one carrier to the next as the SIM card supports a variety of options. However, Verizon is one carrier that doesn’t allow the Apple SIM to work in its devices.

Our Take

It is not easy to switch carriers. It might be easier for some folks, but generally speaking the process is tedious, and, as this writer can attest to, some instances see carriers refusing to even provide simple information to make the process of switching as easy as possible. That’s just the billing side of things. Get into SIM cards and eSIMs and carrier technology, and the whole process can be an ordeal.

Will eSIM cards make that easier? It’s possible. But that still leaves the other side of the process, and carriers aren’t usually ready to lose customers to competing options. Still, any help is a good thing. With this investigation, one can hope that Verizon and AT&T, and any other carriers working to make this harder for customers, have to change their ways.

[via The NYT]