DOJ Investigating AT&T, Verizon for Making It Harder To Switch Wireless Carriers

from the ill-communication dept

AT&T and Verizon have enjoyed a stranglehold over fixed and mobile residential broadband for years. They also enjoy a relative monopoly over broadband business data services, a market that services everything from cellular tower backhaul to ATMs. Given that both companies have a rich, deep history of engaging in all manner of dubious behavior to keep these markets as uncompetitive as possible, there would be absolutely no shortage of ammunition for regulators seeking to punish them on antitrust grounds.

Given that both companies are politically powerful campaign contributors, that generally doesn’t happen, regardless of the party in power.

Which is why it’s arguably entertaining to see the same Trump administration that has made it easier than ever for these companies to behave anti-competitively (net neutrality, privacy) conducting an investigation into whether AT&T and Verizon colluded to making switching carriers more difficult than it needs to be:

“The Justice Department has opened an antitrust investigation into potential coordination by AT&T, Verizon and a telecommunications standards organization to hinder consumers from easily switching wireless carriers, according to six people with knowledge of the inquiry.”

At the heart of the controversy is eSIM, a technology that’s supposed to make it easier than ever to switch carriers without consumers needing to buy and install a new SIM card. With eSIM, user identification technology of a traditional SIM card is instead transferred to the device’s processor or modem itself. Ideally, that could let a consumer switch carriers within just a few seconds. Given that AT&T and Verizon have increasingly been losing customers to T-Mobile, they apparently worked with an industry standards group to try and defeat one of the central advantages of the technology:

“The technology lets people remotely switch wireless providers without having to insert a new SIM card into a device. AT&T and Verizon face accusations that they colluded with the G.S.M.A. to try to establish standards that would allow them to lock a device to their network even if it had eSIM technology.”

Ironically this is probably among the least egregious offenses these companies have engaged in during their thirty year anti-competitive dominance, but it’s an interesting paradigm shift all the same. And it’s an indication that Trump DOJ antitrust head Makan Delrahim isn’t the same sort of blind corporatist ideologue we’ve seen stumbling around elsewhere in the administration (FCC boss Ajit Pai comes quickly to mind). Delrahim’s the same guy spearheading the Trump administration’s opposition to AT&T’s latest megamerger, a move some wondered might have been motivated by cronyism, not consumer welfare.

But with this move there’s indications that Delrahim might genuinely be concerned about consumer welfare, a notable standout for an administration that’s been tripping over itself to make life easier than ever for companies trying to behave anti-competitively on the broadcast and telecom fronts, whether that’s the gutting of media consolidation rules to Sinclair’s specific benefit, to gutting net neutrality just so regional telecom monopolies can distort a level playing field and further cash in on a lack of last-mile broadband competition.

Granted American history suggests it’s more than likely this inquiry goes nowhere (Verizon says it’s just a “difference of opinion,”) but it’s still interesting to see at least one member of the Trump administration not actively making media consolidation and monopoly power problems worse.

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Companies: at&t, verizon

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Comments on “DOJ Investigating AT&T, Verizon for Making It Harder To Switch Wireless Carriers”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Bout time...

Lets see if this really goes anywhere and if it does, if the solution really benefits the consumers.

Last I checked the usual process is… businesses fuck over the citizens and the government collects a fine from said business that is too small to deter the business from continuing said practice.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Bout time...

Its fun that NONE of them use the same phones, and swapping the sim card isnt the only thing required..

I THOUGHT this was fixed years ago, but I had to look it WASNT..

Its the same problem with Tethering…THE PHONES CAN DO IT, but its shut off, for little reasons, THEY WANT MORE MONEY..

How easy to link a laptop/tablet/computer to a cellphone and connect to the internet..NOT A PROBLEM…and GREAT incase of emergencies…AND ALOT easier to TYPE on a real keyboard..and a browser that isnt linked to MOBIL CONNECTION SITE DATA…(and hit that data cap QUICKER)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I know I'm just playing to the trolls

Who’s "chasing"? Numerous "accounts" here POP UP after gaps of year and it’s ODD!

So, "Trip W", I mean "TripMN", you could try explaining the name change, the 32 month gap, and then why half your total comments are made in last month! So far you fit EXACTLY my theory of old accounts are taken over for astro-turf, especially with this challenge instead of simply — well, I won’t give Zombies or Zombie Master any responses that only humans would make!

I’ve devised a (scientific) test. Take a look through this account (from 2009, but short!):
And then state what you make of its seven and a half year gap. — Just checked, still ONE comment after 2010!

Here’s your two basic responses:
Zombie: I am not a zombie! Perfectly normal! Why are you even asking? What kind of nut are you? Get out of your mom’s basement and get a life! If you don’t like zombies — uh, I mean Techdirt, go away!
Almost any human (or so I believe): Seven and a half years? … Huh. Quite a while… Is kinda odd…

Of course you can ignore the test, try a mix, or evasion, but not completely agreeing that at least "BAlbrecht" is "ODD" is what I expect of a zombie.

PS: took me a while to devise test and try to exclude dodging. BUT YOU with a 32-month delay can’t NOW claim are in any HURRY!

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Re: Re: I know I'm just playing to the trolls

Yes, the account could be a troll. But it could also be someone like me, who just became disillusioned with the whole thing and stopped trying for a time. I go through phases where sometimes I feel like posting on things, and other times I say, “What is the point?” and forget it…and what I might think about the article doesn’t have anything to do with that. It has more to do with whether I think I’m playing anything other than the trolls.

TripMN (profile) says:

Re: Re: I know I'm just playing to the trolls

In the upper right hand corner there is a search box. Search for ‘TripMN’. I’ll wait.

If you just did that, you will see that my posting history is almost continuous every few weeks over the last 3 years… its just that I used the same name but wasn’t signed in for a whole bunch of it.

You can put down the tin foil buddy. I’m just a regular software developer who follows technical blogs because its useful in my line of work.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: I know I'm just playing to the trolls

Don’t waste your breath. You are not dealing with a person who accepts rational explanations for things.

People have explained to him, repeatedly, that sometimes people don’t comment on websites for a long time and then do, and this is not a sign of any kind of conspiracy. This has not swayed him.

People have even asked him what the fuck his point is and what exactly he thinks he is proving. Those questions have gone unanswered.

Best not to engage him.

(And if you see somebody ranting about how one of his posts got flagged or held for moderation and how this is a violation of his constitutional rights, and peppering his rants with references to “natural persons” and “common law”? Same guy. Don’t respond to those posts either.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: I know I'm just playing to the trolls

Oh, hey, “TripMN” or “TripW”; I’ve been letting the scientific experiment run a while now to see how you continue, but before I forget:

You passed the Zombie test! Your dismissive-aggressive mix is well within the outline I gave: “Perfectly normal, you conspiracy kook!”

You were the one proposed doing “science”, yet answered none of my questions: name change, the gap, but of course ANY response gives hints.

You may also comment without account (several do), but that just points up how ODD it is to not use the account for near three years, then suddenly resume!

Mainly, you failed the acid test to state position on the “BAlbrecht” account: its 7.5 year gap is indisputable fact. No answer proves the more subtle point that you were never interested in “scientific” test, only attempting to distract, and are some partisan for Techdirt who doesn’t want facts even looked at. (Judging from the false use of “buddy”, is yet again “Dark Helmet”.)

So, thanks for passing!

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