Verizon, AT&T under investigation

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The probe began after a device maker, identified in the Times report as Apple, and a separate wireless carrier filed a formal complaint. In February, the Justice Department requested information from AT&T, Verizon, and the G.S.M.A regarding collusion.

The new technology offers universal standard for eSIM that allows consumers to switch wireless providers without having to insert a new physical SIM card, which is a microchip. "Nothing more", Verizon said.

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". The technology particularly aids customers who travel internationally and frequently switch carriers. The DOJ's investigation could show that the companies along with the GSMA were trying to influence the development of this technology in order to maintain their market dominance.

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News of the probe comes at a critical time for AT&T which is being sued by the Justice Department to stop its deal to buy media company Time Warner Inc (TWX.N).

As it is, carriers around the world and in the United States in particular already hold an overwhelming power over consumers, often charging ridiculously high fees to purchase and activate a new SIM card. Google's Pixel 2 smartphones and Microsoft's Surface devices also use eSIM tech, hinting that these companies may have had reason to file complaints as well.

In December Patently Apple posted a granted patent report that covered Apple's eSIM card technology.

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The source said the Obama administration had investigated similar claims in 2016 but did not take any action. The investigation may also include other major American carriers, another person said.

Harold Fled, a VP of them consumer protection group Public Knowledge, said that he was briefed on a meeting a year ago where AT&T and Verizon discussed pushing for device locking, and Verizon claimed that it needed to protect against theft and fraud.

"There is a constant problem with industry standards-setting organizations that on the one hand allow the industry to come together for the goal of efficiency but can be very anti-competitive and operate in secrecy", Feld said.

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