Department of Justice closes antitrust investigation against mobile network trade association
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Department of Justice closes antitrust investigation against mobile network trade association

The Department of Justice announced Wednesday the completion of its two-year antitrust investigation into the GSMA, a global trade association for mobile network operators.

The GSMA is comprised of around 1,200 companies worldwide, including AT&T and Verizon, and has been responsible for developing standards in mobile technology. The organization is headquartered in London, but has 10 global offices including Atlanta, Barcelona, and Hong Kong. The GSMA has used its influence to lobby on behalf of its members in new technology standards and to discourage competition among mobile companies. It was this behavior that led to the DOJ investigation.

The DOJ investigated the GSMA for about two years looking specifically at how the GSMA steered the development of eSIM cards. Traditional SIM cards were only aligned to one mobile network and could be removed and replaced from the phone to switch networks. eSIM cards could accomplish the same thing, but were built into the device and had to be changed through remote programming. The investigation revealed that the GSMA had improperly used a standard-setting process that favored its members and limited network competition with its new eSIM standard.

The GSMA issued a new standard-setting procedure and asked for DOJ review under a new DOJ business review policy which allows companies to request that the department review a proposed action and determine whether the department will undertake antitrust investigations if the action goes forward. The DOJ conducted a review and determined not to proceed with antitrust enforcement actions. This business review procedure is not binding on the DOJ, though, and the department may undertake an enforcement action if the results of a reviewed business are found to be anticompetitive.

The DOJ and the GSMA have both expressed beliefs that the new procedure will have positive benefits for mobile consumers, but the DOJ reserves the right to enforcement if necessary.