Anti-trust lawyers investigate exclusive handset deals

July 8, 2017

Exclusive handset deals between mobile phone makers and network providers are to be subject to an anti-trust investigation by the US Department of Justice (DoJ).

The Wall Street Journal claims that the DoJ is at the early stages of an investigation into a variety of telecoms industry practices, the most notable being the exclusive deals signed between telcos and handset makers.

The investigation follows a consolidation of US carriers that sees four operators holding 90% of the country’s mobile phone subscribers.

Consumer rights lobby group Public Knowledge welcomed the investigation.

“Consumers have suffered over the past 10 years as the industry has consolidated and strengthened its hold over which services can be offered and which equipment can be used,” said Gigi Sohn, Public Knowledge president.

“Competition is almost non-existent in crucial services for home and business use.”

To press charges, the DoJ will have to submit evidence that competition has been harmed by the exclusive deals, reducing consumer choice and increasing prices.

Legal experts believe amassing such evidence could prove tricky, if not impossible.

“There’s no obvious antitrust case to me,” said Donald Russell, an attorney who led the telecoms task force at the DoJ until 2001.

Network operators AT&T and Verizon Wireless said they are unaware of any investigation, and have not been contacted by the DoJ.

Exclusive deals between operators and phone makers have been common practice in the US for years.

However, consumers in Europe and Asia have recently challenged the practice, forcing manufacturers to sell unlocked devices in a number of countries.


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