Justice Deptartment investigating AT&T, Verizon

Department of Justice

Department of Justice in Washington Bill Clark

It's being reported this afternoon that the Justice Department had reached out to all four major USA wireless carriers as part of an antitrust investigation.

AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc are under investigation by United States antitrust officials over whether the companies worked with an industry standards group to make it tougher for consumers to switch wireless carriers, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Verizon and AT&T acknowledged the government probe and said they were working with regulators.

Apple Inc AAPL.O and other equipment makers have complained to the Justice Department about wireless carrier practices related to eSIM technology, two sources familiar with the matter said.

A new technology called eSIM, or electronic SIM, which is being promoted as a new standard by the GSMA, allows customers to more easily move their phones between different carriers.

Verizon repudiated the claim, arguing a "difference of opinion with a couple of phone equipment manufacturers regarding the development of eSIM standards", but has been working with the U.S. government on the inquiry.

CNN's video below covers why the AT&T Time Warner trial matters.

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News of the investigation comes as AT&T is already fighting the Justice Department in court over its blockbuster deal to acquire Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.

Verizon and AT&T are the two leading wireless carriers, with a combined market share of about 70 percent.

The person briefed on the matter told Reuters that other wireless operators potentially received inquiries from the government. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department didn't respond to a request seeking comment.

The source said the Obama administration had investigated similar claims in 2016 but did not take any action.

Harold Fled, a VP of them consumer protection group Public Knowledge, said that he was briefed on a meeting previous year where AT&T and Verizon discussed pushing for device locking, and Verizon claimed that it needed to protect against theft and fraud. Those on the Google carrier do not receive a SIM card when ordering the phone, with service activated and connected during the initial setup process.

GSMA "is a very closed standards organisation", Mr Feld said.

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