It took the threat of government regulation from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to bring this about but the major US carriers have relented and have agreed to six principals that will make it easier for customers to unlock their phones and be informed about how they can go about doing so. The five US carriers that reached agreement with the FCC are AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular.
In a letter today from Steve Largent, President and CTO of the CTIA to the FCC outlined the six voluntary principals the carriers are volunteering to undertake. You can see a PDF of the letter at this link. Those six principals include the following:
- Disclosure. Each carrier will post on its website its clear, concise, and readily accessible policy on postpaid and prepaid mobile wireless device unlocking.
- Postpaid Unlocking Policy. Carriers, upon request, will unlock mobile wireless devices or provide the necessary information to unlock their devices for their customers and former customers in good standing and individual owners of eligible devices after the fulfillment of the applicable postpaid service contract, device financing plan or payment of an applicable early termination fee.
- Prepaid Unlocking Policy. Carriers, upon request, will unlock prepaid mobile wireless devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time, payment or usage requirements.
- Notice. Carriers that lock devices will clearly notify customers that their devices are eligible for unlocking at the time when their devices are eligible for unlocking or automatically unlock devices remotely when devices are eligible for unlocking, without additional fee. Carriers reserve the right to charge non-customers/non-former-customers a reasonable fee for unlocking requests. Notice to prepaid customers may occur at point of sale, at the time of eligibility, or through a clear and concise statement of the policy on the carrier’s website
- Response Time. Within two business days after receiving a request, carriers will unlock eligible mobile wireless devices or initiate a request to the OEM to unlock the eligible device, or provide an explanation of why the device does not qualify for unlocking, or why the carrier reasonably needs additional time to process the request.
- Deployed Personnel Unlocking Policy. Carriers will unlock mobile wireless devices for deployed military personnel who are customers in good standing upon provision of deployment papers.
The letter goes on to say that the carriers will implement three of the standards within three months and all of them within 12 months. The letter does not specify which of the first three those are. The carriers also reserve the right to not honor an unlock request if they believe it is fraudulent or if the device is stolen.
This acquiescence by the five US carriers came about through mounting pressure from a public disagreeing with the Library of Congress decision determining that unlocking a cell phone without a carrier’s permission violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In November FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, urged on by some members of Congress and the White House, gave the carriers until the holiday season of 2013 to find a voluntary way to make it easier for consumers to unlock their cellphones or face government regulation that would essentially force the carriers’ hands in favor of consumers.