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AT&T Says They Love to Unlock Customers’ Devices, Forgets Not Everyone is Their Customer

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In response to all of the hullabaloo over this phone unlocking situation that was created when the Librarian of Congress determined that it would be illegal to unlock a carrier-branded phone without approval, AT&T has decided to toss in their two cents. Posted to their public policy blog, Joan Marsh, AT&T’s Vice President of Federal Regulatory, made it clear that they have no problem unlocking their customers’ devices. That’s right, any customer “whose account has been active for at least sixty days; whose account is in good standing and has no unpaid balance; and who has fulfilled his or her service agreement commitment,” will have their phone unlocked by AT&T without issue. Talk about a list of qualifications. 

Marsh claims that the policy is “straightforward,” which I agree – it’s straight forward, alright. If you want to unlock an AT&T phone and take it to T-Mobile, you have to be a customer of AT&T’s, with an account in good standing, that has been active for sixty days, and also have fulfilled a service agreement. As the folks over at PocketNow have pondered, what about the guy who wants to be on T-Mobile, who buys a phone from an AT&T customer? No go? What about the woman who is moving to London and just bought an AT&T phone off of Craigslist, knowing full well that it has the ability to work on a network in Europe? Or what about the college kid that wants to use prepaid service, so he spent a few hundred dollars buying a phone from a friend with an AT&T line, yet wants to take the phone elsewhere?

Certainly these are very specific examples, but that’s also sort of the point here. If I buy something outright, it should be mine no matter the circumstance. It’s like buying a computer or a car. Once my credit card slides through the register, it’s mine to do with as I please. Think about if I were to buy a Chevy Volt and had the City of Portland tell me that I could only drive on their streets if I run the car on electric instead of gas and electric. And that in order to unlock the gas portion of the car and move to a nearby town, I’d have to drive it around the city for at least 60 days, get zero tickets, and pay my monthly car payment on time, or else.

AT&T claims in their post that they thought the “Librarian’s careful decision was reasonable.” Of course they do. Thankfully, we have the White House and a bunch of Congressmen backing us that do not believe it was careful or reasonable.

Via:  AT&T Public Policy

  • Isn’t unlocking made legal again?

  • eckdawg5

    Yeah thankfully we have Congressmen voting in our best interest smh…I highly doubt over 25% of Congress fully understands what carrier unlocking means, and I doubt 25% would actually read the bill before voting on it. “Of course phones need to be unlocked. If I didn’t have my slide to unlock on my iPhone, how would I get to the homescreen on my phone” – Sen. McCain

  • Eleeflyguy43

    I am confused. This bill was supported by carriers and lawmakers because of copyright issues. Now it is about “accounts in good standing” and “not under contract”. Somewhere, I smell corrupt politicians taking money from lobbyists funded by carriers.

  • dwboston

    This isn’t a change in policy for AT&T, it’s been this way for at least the last 3 years. AT&T has unlocked my last 3 phones purchased from them, with little hassle. AT&T deserves criticism, but not for this.

  • Jon

    I just want it to be known for the record, I have unlocked 6 AT&T phones, for free, in the past 4 months, simply by calling AT&T and telling them I bought the phone from eBay and want to unlock it for T-Mobile. Every time, they gave me no fuss or delay and unlocked the phones within 5 minutes.

  • Dillon Brown

    there should be a DLife post on carriers and contracts. Too many people misunderstand that the contract you sign with a carrier is for the service and not for the phone. The carriers offer phone service. In order to have more people with phones that need service they give you a discount (not financing) on a phone with the stipulation that you become a subscriber to their service for 2 years. NOT that you have the phone for two years. So I can go buy a new phone right now and swap my SIM and deactivate my old phone. I can even sell that phone. I do however have to continue subscribing to my carrier and pay my same monthly bill regardless of the phone I am using for the full two years unless I break my contract and pay the ETF. The issue here is that once I buy the subsidized phone it is mine and I can sell it if I want to (selling it does not mean I end my contract) and some one else can buy it, but they can not unlock that phone and choose the provider for it when THEY have no contract to be with a specific provider. They are simply buying a phone like any item that one can buy, but this law makes it illegal to choose a provider for that phone without the permission of the carrier that does not own that phone in any shape or form.

  • Anoneyemou5e

    Simple answer;the seller needs to unlock it prior to putting it on Craigslist.

    • WhataboutRaven

      This is the smartest comment on the whole page including the original article. It’s quite simple to request the meid, call the carrier and ask if a phone is unlocked or if it could be unlocked if bought second hand.
      Other than buying from Craigslist or some other classified ad site, there are retailers out there very happy to sell you an unlocked phone not tied to a contract. If someone isn’t smart enough to do some research before buying then it’s tough luck for them.
      It’s a ridiculous notion that adults need to have things spoon fed to them instead of taking responsibility for their own ignorance.

  • yovonndaghorai

    O o oo

  • DrStrangelove

    You are not signing a contract to use the subsidized phone for two years on the contract. They subsidize the product so you sign the contract. If they didn’t there would probably be about 80% less phone purchases, because people tend to not upgrade devices that work properly.

    • delesh

      Exactly right. And they want to limit the amount of off-contract affordable phones so that you always buy a new on-contract phone. All about getting those contracts signed. Tricky tricky.

  • I don’t understand why they need to be a customer or have their contract fulfilled at all. I sign up for a new 2 year contract with a cell company, and buy a new subsidized smartphone. The early termination fee is $350, potentially more. That covers the subsidy. If I decide to cancel my service, that phone is mine, now. Sure, it will cost me that $350, but it’s my phone. If they don’t like it, they should up their early-termination fee more.

  • Bionic

    AT&T sucks.

  • delesh

    The problem isn’t that AT&T’s current policy is good/bad, it’s the fact that they can change the policy any time and for any reason. The current law states that you have to get permission from the carrier. So carriers can make whatever rules they want and deny people whenever they feel like it. When you buy a phone and fulfill the contract you should be able to unlock your phone whether the carrier gives permission or not. Period.

  • You guys do know that Verizon has the exact same policy right? They just dont advertise it, and it’s only for global devices.

    • ceejw

      Verizon’s policy doesn’t really matter since pretty much every high end phone they sell now is GSM unlocked out of the box.

  • I don’t see a problem with anything AT&T is doing.

    What about the woman who is moving to London and just bought an AT&T phone off of Craigslist, knowing full well that it has the ability to work on a network in Europe? Or what about the college kid that wants to use prepaid service, so he spent a few hundred dollars
    buying a phone from a friend with an AT&T line, yet wants to take the phone elsewhere?

    What about them? They’re not AT&T customers. Why should AT&T have to do something for them for free? If I was calling the shots at AT&T, I’d set something up to unlock phones for people like that for a fee as long as it’s not exposing them to extra liability, but you’d have to think about situations where someone claims to have gotten a phone of craigs list, but it’s really stolen.

    • I think maybe another conversation could then be, why are we locking phones to a specific carrier in the first place when they are capable of working elsewhere? Should we just make it illegal to even sell a phone before your contract is up or you are in good standing or meet AT&T’s list of criteria?

      • I’d love to see the market for locked phones go away, but as long as people expect to buy phones from carriers and want to get support from the carriers, it’s in their best interest to lock you in. If I had it my way, phones would be just like computers. Go buy one from whoever then connect it to whatever network you wanted. You can do that now as google is showing with the Nexus 4, but the market hasn’t really come around for that to be the norm yet. Hopefully it will soon though.

  • James

    If you’re dumb enough to sign a contract that contains language limiting you to usage under those circumstances, well, then that’s on you. If you don’t like it then don’t buy a subsidized phone. It’s not like there is fraud going on here. The only time big brother needs to step in is when fraud is occurring. Vote with your wallet, not by force.

  • Mike Pado

    That is fair. You shouldn’t be able to just add a phone just because it now “yours” because “you bought it” from a friend, or on craigslist. I cannot argue with AT&T, that is fair. If the phone is tied to an unpaid balance or time remaining on a contract they have every right to not unlock it. It is up to the buyer to do due diligence on your purchase. Because someone else failed to live up to a contact or agreement with the phone, you the buyer assumes the risk involved. Check and make sure before you purchase. Clean ECN, ect. And just think of all the stolen phones that now will not be allowed to jump to a different network. That said, I believe if you have paid and lived up to your agreement, you have every right to do what you like with your property. BTW I did sign the White House petition, number 34,399.

    • DrStrangelove

      You are not financing the phone. They are subsidizing the cost as means of attracting you to sign a two year contract. If you were financing the phone, those who bought unsubsidized off-contract phones would no doubt receive some sort of discount on their plan? The moment you swipe your credit card the phone is yours. Imagine buying a flat screen TV from Verizon for a discount upon a two year contract. Nine months later you decide the Dish offers a better service to you. Not only are you hit with an ETF, but your TV will not work on Dish and it is illegal to make it so. People aren’t arguing the ETF for switching services, they are argueing that we are buying the products outright, and should be both practical and legal to do with that product as we choose.

      • Mike Pado

        OK. Question: The phone is yours? I haven’t read the fine print, but I would safely assume that it would say the price of the phone is what it is as long as you fulfill your agreement of the contract. It would be an easy switch to sign up for a two year plan, pay the $199 for the phone cancel a month later ($250 ETF plus one month payment $75) you are around $500. That is a lot less than a phone that goes for $700-$800. Right? Please note this is not incinderery (spelling) just a question looking for your answer.

  • kiter86

    your car analogy isn’t that far fetched with this Government.

    • As I was writing it, I have to admit that I got a little scared.

  • DanWazz

    AT&T reminding me yet again why I left their service 5 years ago and have never looked back.

  • zepfloyd

    AT&T’s post is laughable corporate damage control.

    • batman

      Your grammar is something to laugh at.

      • zepfloyd

        Unm, no?

  • ceejw

    Verizon is actually better than AT&T in this regard since pretty much all their LTE phones are sold with the GSM radio completely unlocked.

    • J. Gilbertson

      Except that only works internationally. Verizon needs to let contracts paid in full unlock to use on any gsm network including US domestic.

      • ceejw

        I don’t think that’s true anymore with the LTE phones. I know the Verizon iPhone 5 works on AT&T, I’ve seen it done.

        • That’s because the 5’s radio has the ability to use all of the world’s LTE frequencies. I dont know of any android device that can yet.

          • ceejw

            I was just talking about GSM connectivity. The Verizon iPhone 5 actually can’t connect to AT&Ts LTE since it’s not in one of the 5 Bands it supports. I think you’re right though about no Android phone having a pentaband LTE radio like the iPhone 5 though.

          • Dillon Brown

            You are right about the iphone 5, but it is the only phone on verizon that is completely unlocked. J. Gibertson is right for every other phone.

          • The droid dna is also

          • Tyler Cameron

            My Droid RAZR M works just fine on T-Mobile and AT&T’S HSPA network

          • John Pisano

            My HTC Droid DNA works just fine if you pop an AT&T Sim card in it.

  • “If I buy something outright, it should be mine no matter the circumstance.” Agreed 100 percent. But you’re talking about when you buy a device without subsidy, off contract, correct? Because if you spend $199 on an on-contract device, it’s technically not yours until your 2 years is up.

    • In fact, same goes for your Volt example. If you’re financing that Volt, it’s not yours until your last payment is made. Until then, it’s the banks.

      • JoshGroff

        Your post has some solid logic, have an up vote on the house.

      • Except that the bank isn’t controlling anything I do with it. I can swap the engine out for a diesel engine if I want. I can put gas in it from whatever oil company I choose. AT&T is saying you can’t do anything like that unless you are their customer.

        • So you don’t think that, if you buy an expensive car like a Volt and finance it, and then decide to swap out some very major component, like an engine, and then god forbid that car gets repo’ed, the bank won’t come after you for the additional cost of putting the OEM motor back in?

          That’s the entire point of the repo, the bank reclaims THEIR property because you aren’t meeting your financial obligation, and then they sell that car back to a dealership or another entity to recoup as much of their loss as possible. They would never be able to resell a Chevy Volt with a diesel engine, nobody would even touch it. The bank has the option of either A. Scrapping it for the cost of parts, plus the sheet metal, and take a HUGE loss or B. Bill you for the total amount of a new Volt engine, plus labor to put it back in. What do you think the bank would do?

        • Anoneyemou5e

          Your illustration is off I believe. They have their policy worded the way they do to protect themselves from people “driving their cars without insurance”. The need assurance that they don’t get short changed on a discounted phone. Besides, an off contract phone with a clean ESN- that’s what they invented exceptions for.

        • Yeah, try telling the bank you’d rather just get liability insurance and see how that goes. Anything that devalues the car or adds risk to their investment would violate the terms of your loan.

      • No, it very much *IS* yours even with a loan out against it. All the bank does is file a lien against the vehicle’s title until it is paid off, making sure that you pay back the loan or THEN they’ll own it to recoup the losses.

        • Big_EZ

          It is not yours until you pay it off and have the title, until then it’s the banks and they’ll repo it if you don’t pay because they own it.

          • Corri Olson

            Um… I have the title for my car, the bank is just a party on it (lien holder), as previously noted. Your very statement of “repossession” assumes it was “not in their possession” (ie, you owned it). They will take the car away if you fail to pay of the loan, which means the lien kicks in. You do own the car, the title is in your name, but if you default on the loan, then the bank takes the car in order to make *some* of the money that you owe them back.

          • Big_EZ

            Maybe in your state, but most states back the lender and not the consumer. In my state, and most, you don’t get the title until the loan is paid, and you don’t own it. There are a few states where you do get the title and technically own it, but not many.

          • Christopher Riner

            What state are you in? Not like that in Virginia, the bank goes on as a lien and you’re the title holder.

      • Mike Pado

        Correct! They hold the title. Not you.

    • John Sullivan

      I’d agree except they charge you an ETF to get out early which covers whatever you cost them by skipping out on the service

    • DanWazz

      I do believe paying full price is implied. All his examples were of people buying the device from someone other than the carrier or their retailers.

    • Kane Stapler

      Right.. That’s why there is the fee for ending your contract early

    • BrannoNmerz

      I quit working at shoprite and now I make $35h – $80h…how? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new… after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier. Heres what I do,

    • normmcgarry

      You aren’t financing the phone. There is no lien on it. They sell it at a discount because you agree to a 2-year contract. It is yours as soon as you sign the 2-year contract, not once the contract is up.

      • James

        If it’s yours then go unlock it yourself. It’s your own fault you bought a locked phone in the first place. No one should be able to force a provider to unlock it for you.

        • normmcgarry

          That’s completely different than what I said. He stated that the device isn’t yours until the 2 years is up, which I absolutely disagree with. And your point is totally off queue, too. The issue is that unlocking your device is illegal, and it shouldn’t be. That doesn’t mean that networks should be forced to unlock it for you. But, if I go onto xda-developers are perform an unlocking method on my device, that shouldn’t be illegal.

          • James

            Ok, I see what you are saying. I agree, it shouldn’t be illegal unless the contract you signed says you’re not allowed to do it. In that case the law should support the contractual obligations both parties have to abide by the contract.

          • What I’m saying, is that if someone buys a phone on contract, then sells it to you, you should be able to unlock it. According to AT&T, you wouldn’t be able to because you aren’t a customer of theirs.

          • normmcgarry

            The ability to unlock it shouldn’t be tied to a provider is the biggest issue. I mean, AT&T shouldn’t have to provide any service to someone that isn’t their customer. Unlocking a phone for someone that isn’t their customer costs them money. But, devices should come unlocked or with a way to unlock them outside of carrier intervention.

          • michael arazan

            It literally takes an ATT employee less than 5 minutes to unlock the device at his terminal pc. Then maybe they should charge $7.25 to unlock it which would be his minimum wage salary for the full hour.

      • BrannoNmerz

        My mothers neighbour is working part time and averaging $9000 a month. I’m a single mum and just got my first paycheck for $6546! I still can’t believe it. I tried it out cause I got really desperate and now I couldn’t be happier.http://www.cnn.com/careerReports Heres what I do,

      • But your being an ass to the company that gave you that discount under the understanding that you would fulfill that contract, and you know it.

        • Christopher Riner

          Are you kidding? Don’t be mean to the vampires, err, uh Verizon associates. You already signed the contract saying they could suck your blood dry so don’t be an ass hole and just let them do it..

      • If you read the T&C though its all conditional on completing the contract. They basically own the phone until the contract is complete or you pay the fee to release the device.

        And its not unreasonable, its the only way they can afford to take $300 off of the cost of a device, have a guarantee that you will bring that back (and more) in added revenue.

        • capecodcarl

          Yet, I don’t get a $300 discount off my 2 year plan if I bring my own device though.

          • You do if you do a pre-paid plan. Unfortunately its still pretty limited at the moment (T-Mobile and MNVOs are the only ones doing it) but if more people take their old iphones and unlocked Nexus 4s to those plans then pressure might build on other carriers to offer such a plan.

            One issue in North America though is the dependence on CDMA (for now). That means its pointless because no matter what youre still stuck with the carrier. Its only T-Mobile and AT&T where it matters.

        • Tech Pro

          This T&C is wrong and should be made illegal. The real condition is to pay off with either cash or 2 years services. Phone is not even in the equation. Unless I can return the phone any time with no other obligation. This is not the case because phone companies want the money, not the phone.

          • There is nothing illegal about it, its a contract between you two. You can pass on it. Also, that is what the ETF is for, its basically paying cash out for the phone.

          • Tech Pro

            That’s what I said it SHOULD be illegal. In comparison of car purchasing, you can either Get a Car Loan or Lease. Consumers own the car even though the lender own the lien on the car. For leasing, lender own the car until consumers make the balloon payment. Cell phone is more like car loan.

          • So your logic as to why it should be illegal is because others do the same thing?

            Its common practice and its sometimes the only method to get people into what would be expensive hardware, financing. Its how ADT can give away security systems (knowing you will be under contract for their service).

            There is nothing illegal or underhanded about it, its just the only way most people can “afford” these phones. They cant pay the $600 up front, if companies didnt subsidize that would be the price of most smartphones and most people wouldnt have them. If you dont like it pay the ETF and the phone is yours, the ETF essentially pays off this financed amount, just like anything else you finance.

          • Tech Pro

            Law is made by People through legislation as people see something injustice. Such as Monopoly was legal until it’s made illegal. Or environment contamination until there is environment protection law.

      • But you ARE financing the phone, even if that’s not how they technically word it when they sell it to you. The cost of a modern, high end smartphone retails for anywhere from 599-799, sometimes higher (although in this day and age, that’s rare). The additional cost of that phone that you aren’t paying upfront is factored into your cell phone service, of which you sign a contract that you’ll uphold the monthly payment on it for 2 years. That is why the cost of service is so high.

        In fact, not only are you financing the phone, you are being charged interest on the financed amount, just like any other financial agreement in which you are taking a product without providing the full cost of the product upfront. This is why, nearly 100 percent of the time, you actually make out better over a 2 year period of time by buying a device upfront, sans contract, and being charged less for the service.

        • Harbo99

          the additional cost is not factored into your contract. Do you pay a lower monthly rate for service if you buy your phone off contract???

          • On some providers, yes. I know T-Mobile used to do this, but their plans and rates change like every 3 months so I haven’t kept up with what they do and I can’t say for sure if they still do. But yes, I believe it’s called Even More Plus, where you purchase the phone outright, sans contract, and the cost of your service is lower.

          • If youre special then you can sign a contract but if you dont you can save money. T-Mobile is over $10 a month in savings over a contract, MNVOs save more.

        • drstrangelove

          You are 100% wrong. You are not financing the phone. Check your bill. There is nothing about monthly payments for the subsidized phone. IF you were financing it, that initial payment would be a down payment. You say they aren’t technically wording it it that way. Well wording is important. The carriers are offering the phone at a discount as a means of luring you into a two year contract. You might want to check your bill and your sale agreement, because you will find nothing about financing or a lien. The additional cost may be factored into your monthly payment I agree with you there, but it is not a condition upon purchase. Go buy a nexus and tell them your not interested in any carrier phone. See if your bill gets reduced.

        • Christopher Riner

          I don’t understand. I financed my car, my interest rate is 5.5% and I’m making payments. Nowhere in my Verizon bill does it show that I am paying x amount of interest on my phone until it’s paid off. Yes, they sold me a phone at a discount, yes they get money from new every month, but I could’ve borrowed a Verizon phone from my girlfriend and I’d still be paying the same thing every month for my plan. That is not what financing is.

          Sure, when I took the upgrade and renewed my contact I agreed to pay them money, but that doesn’t mean the money I give them goes to financing my phone. The contract/bill are the same price regardless of what phone I’m using. I know BC the price I pay now using my “financed” nexus is the exact same as it was before using my droid charge. No interest charges, no phones I’m still paying off– exact same bill to the penny.

          • How is it this complex for you people to understand. Read the contract. The discount on the phone is conditional on you signing, and completing, a contract. You own the phone but you are paying off the discount effectively. If you dont complete the contract then you owe them the $300+ they fronted for the phone.

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    • Mike Pado

      Thank you!!