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FCC and Carriers Reach Agreement on “Unlocking” Phones

Remember back in January when the Librarian of Congress decided that it would be illegal to unlock your phone (SIM unlocking, not bootloader) without carrier permission? Well, a petition helped to get the change on the White House’s front steps, which eventually led to them agreeing that consumers should be able to unlock phones and take them to other carriers, along with the FCC and a bunch of legislators. As of yesterday, the FCC has an agreement in place with the five major U.S. wireless carriers on the matter that should at least make their unlocking policies clearer. Yeah, that’s really all we’re looking at here. And again, we’re talking SIM unlocking for use on another carrier, not bootloaders. 

The Librarian of Congress’ change essentially made it illegal to unlock your smartphone using back alley tactics or finding an unlock code through a 3rd party dealer or outside of your carrier before your contract was up. As far as I can tell, that still stands. Only now, the carriers have to make it easy to understand that this is the world we live in. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

This agreement from the CTIA and the FCC has six bullet points, three of which they claim will be implemented within three months, with the rest coming some time in the next year. In the bullets (which are listed below), you can see that the first bullet is to simply state that they will have a readily accessible policy on unlocking. OK. The second says that you still have to request an unlock code from your carrier, but that in order to receive a code you will have to be in good standing, have fulfilled your contract, etc. See, nothing has changed. For prepaid users, you have to wait an entire year.

The only real change I’m seeing is that carriers will have to either unlock devices automatically upon completion of a contract or at least notify individuals that their phones can be unlocked. They also have to respond within two business days upon receiving a request.

Here are the six bullet points, copied word-for-word so you can read them yourselves:

l. Disclosure. Each carrier will post on its website its clear, concise, and readily accessible policy on postpaid and prepaid mobile wireless device unlocking.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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-customerslnon-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

5. 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.

6. Deployed Personnel Unlocking Policy. Carriers will unlock mobile Wireless devices fordeployed military personnel who are customers in good standing upon provision of deployment papers.

So yeah, that’s pretty much it. Going forward, you still have to go to your carrier to receive an unlock code, make sure your phone is paid off entirely or your contract has ended, and then they will unlock it for you. Just keep in mind that AT&T has been this way for a long time and that Verizon has been shipping unlocked phones for at least a year thanks to an earlier agreement with the FCC.

Nice headline grabbing stuff from the CTIA who took a huge media hit when they forced the Librarian of Congress to change the legality of unlocking, but in the end, I’m not seeing much of a change here.

Note – “Unlocking” in this case has nothing to do with bootloaders. We are talking about SIM unlocking a phone to take it from one carrier to another. Also, yes, the picture is the bootloader unlock icon on a Nexus. We are fully aware of that. We just like the image of an unlock…you know, like a symbol. Don’t get too bent out of shape about it.

Via:  CTIAWhitehouseCNET | Reuters
Cheers Michael and Jonathan!

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