A proposed antitrust class action has been filed in New Jersey federal court against Verizon Communications, Inc. and Cellco Partnership over the telecom companies’ alleged competition-stifling conduct that the plaintiff claims has significantly hampered consumers’ ability to switch between wireless carriers. The complaint outright alleges a conspiracy exists between Verizon and non-defendants AT&T, Inc. and AT&T Mobility LLC through which the companies aim to not only control customer mobility between carriers, but to implement industry standards that would permit carriers to “lock devices to a certain network,” which the case says would further hinder consumers from having the freedom to choose among wireless carriers based on price.
What’s the Lawsuit Saying Verizon Did?
Citing an April 20th Gizmodo report detailing a Department of Justice investigation into possible collusion between Verizon and AT&T, the lawsuit says that the defendants worked together to “thwart eSIM technology” that allows for the traditional SIM cards in consumers’ phones to be replaced with an embedded chip that the suit explains “can be reconfigured without the need to physically remove it from the device.” This technology enables a consumer to remotely switch wireless communication providers without having to replace his or her phone’s existing SIM card or visit a brick-and-mortar store location, the case says.
In early 2016, mobile industry standards outfit Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) released updated guidelines detailing how wireless carriers can best support the use of eSIM technology, according to the suit. Since the publication of those guidelines, however, the defendants and AT&T, which have a grip on roughly 70 percent of the U.S. wireless market, have allegedly worked hand in hand to both lock customer eSIMS to their respective networks and to prod GSMA into setting even newer regulations allowing for such conduct.
“Locking eSIMS to a single carrier disables one of the most important functions of eSIM technology—the ability to simply switch between carriers through a mobile device, without visiting a physical store and changing a physical SIM card, which can be difficult for consumers to do on their own,” the 33-page suit reads.
Through this alleged scheme, the case goes on, Verizon and AT&T summarily sought to manipulate the wireless communications market by “excluding, restraining and suppressing competition.” Consumers were thereby deprived of the choice provided through a free and open market, the plaintiff argues, and ultimately paid higher prices for wireless services.
For its part, non-defendant GSMA admitted after the DOJ became involved that it had in fact developed an eSIM rule that would allow wireless carriers to lock devices to their networks but supposedly held back on a rollout pending the results of the government’s investigation.
“GSMA provided Verizon and AT&T with the opportunity to conspire to manipulate the wireless communications services market,” the case charges, “through industry events and board meetings attended by senior executives of Verizon and AT&T.”
How Can I Join This Class Action?
In general, you don’t need to do anything to join a class action. If and when a case settles, all people identified as “class members” – i.e., those who would be eligible to claim piece of a settlement – would typically be notified by mail or e-mail. In this case, the lawsuit hopes to cover all people and corporations that were subscribed to wireless communication services provided by Verizon since 2016.
The complaint can be read below.