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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!
  • Jayracer7474

    this whitehouse.gov petition stuff is joke, this whole agreement was to just say shutup we looked at your petition and we fixed it. However they just upheld their former descision. bureaucracy at its best, government shouldn’t be this involved in our daily lives or businesses.

  • zurginator

    Correct me if I’m wrong here, but this does mean that I can take my Galaxy S (1) to AT&T and have it unlocked, yes? Even if I don’t currently have service with them?

  • Hans Dirk Kwazneski

    Will this work if we’re CURRENTLY deployed? Can I email Verizon despite having my contract suspended due to deployment and get my phone completely SIM unlocked? Hate getting that foreign SIM notification everytime I reboot my Droid Maxx with Italian SIM.

  • atcjeff

    So does this mean we can buy a nexus 5 and unlock it for use on Verizon?

    • jimt

      I think you can now and since it is unlocked out of the box, the only trouble is it wouldn’t make phone calls because of no cdma radio. You could use skype or google voice though.

      • TJWaterskier

        I agree.. it would be a numberless tablet essentially but LTE data must work by law.

  • James

    Then why does my Droid Maxx already work with a T-mobile sim card?

  • BrianT

    If you still cannot unlock the bootloader, then how will you upgrade the OS if you switch carriers? You’ll be stuck on whatever last version of Android you had on the previous carrier.

    • jimt

      I think you can update the OS even if your phone is on WiFi only without a carrier at all. That is what I did with the nexus 5 when I first got it. Turned it on without a sim card. It then updated the OS.

      • Adrynalyne

        I’ve updated Verizon phones the same way.

    • Adrynalyne

      The phone is still recognized as the original carrier phone and gets it when the carrier approves it, like normal.

  • droidify

    For those needing clarification…

    • Adrynalyne


      Nothing has changed at all, LOL.

    • TJWaterskier

      But the Verizon phones are the only carrier sold phones that come carrier unlocked…

      • droidify

        Here I fixed it for you…

        • Me

          So does AT&T. Can’t decide which is worse

  • anna willoughby

    …am I the only one who thinks this make sense? You’re basically leasing the phone on most carriers, or receiving it at a dramatically decreased cost (or sometimes basically for free) in return for agreeing to remain with the carrier for the agreed upon amount of time. If you unlock your phone and take it off the carrier’s network before you’ve reached the end of that period, you’re breaking your contract.

    • Adrynalyne

      Am I leasing?

      So I return it to them if I decide to stop using the service or at the end of the contract period?

      They certainly subsidize it, but leasing–nah.

      • jimt

        If you stop before the end of your contract you have to pay an ETF which pays for the phone. If you leave at the end of contract you own the phone.

    • jimt

      When you leave you have to pay an ETF which pays for the phone that you are leaving with. You then totally own the phone. Why shouldn’t I be able to take a phone from Verizon to T-Mobile if I own it?

      • anna willoughby

        I agree that if you pay the fee, you should be able to take the phone with you, and I was under the impression most carriers will unlock the phone in this case. T-Mobile is probably not the best example for you to use, since they’re pretty famously unlock-friendly.

        • Aaron C

          I bought a used T-Mobile Sensation off Amazon and T-Mobile gave me the unlock code without a problem (they didn’t know I was staying with a BYOD T-Mobile plan, so I could have just as easily gone to AT&T). Not discounting what you said, but they didn’t give me a problem at all.

        • jimt

          I was told by Tmo that they would unlock any of their phones, Verizon said they won’t unlock any Verizon phone. I have to slip a TMO sim into a Droid Razor M and see what happens, maybe it is unlocked like the Droid Razor Maxx

          • anna willoughby

            Verizon is notoriously terrible in general (when it comes to customer service). T-Mobile will usually unlock anything, from my experience. They’re also totally not opposed to people bringing unlocked phones onto their service, which I’ve done regularly since long before the smartphone days.

          • Me

            I don’t believe Tmo much anymore. They screwed up everything when I tried to transfer. Got a few hours. No one would believe what I’ve been going through with these carriers claiming to be a business. They are like our Congress. They need to be flushed and filled. Then start over. Let’s face it, who wants to give up a very lucrative runaway scam at the expense of Joe Nomoney? His name is Nomoney cuz we have to pick up the carriers share of federal tax dollars that they don’t pay. It’s cheaper to buy a congressman than to pay and play fair. WHAT A F’IN JOKE!!!!!

  • jimt

    I recently tried to get a Droid M unlocked by Verizon and they said that they would not unlock any verizon phone. Period.

    • TJWaterskier

      Have you tried just putting a different SIM in it? I bet it works.

      • jimt

        Haven’t tried that I just got a nexus 5 and went to T-mobile. Still waiting for 12/15 to cancel Verizon because of $130 ETF if only one day before 12/15. Cannot wait until sunday and I had unlimited also.

        • Aaron C

          Happy Verizon Freedom day! I had unlimited on three lines. Paid the ETF on all of them and went Nexus/T-Mo and have been very happy for almost a year now. I wonder how many folks are holding onto Verizon just because of unlimited data? I think the $100 a month savings overall has been worth it, and battery life seems so much better on the GSM phones.

          • jimt

            I had 3 lines also, saving $1000 a year is a bonus. I’m LOVING T-Mobile Unlimited everything and 2 to 3 times the speed also. I haven’t tried it out in the rural areas yet but I know it won’t be so great out there.

          • Aaron C

            Yeah, we travel to rural NH several times a year and the rural coverage is all Edge, most of it I believe provided by AT&T though their agreement with T-Mobile. I still managed to upload pics to FB and the like, and the network is not congested at all so connections, while slow, seem pretty reliable. It’s a slight inconvenience, but for $1000 a year, as long as you have good coverage in your home/work area, it’s a no-brainer. I also can’t believe how much faster T-Mobile is than Verizon, even the case before TMo went LTE in my area. HSPA+ was still faster than Verizon LTE.

    • Adrynalyne

      I bet they thought you meant bootloader unlock.

      • jimt

        No they were talking sim unlock

        • Adrynalyne

          I’ve talked to the reps.

          They read from scripts like any other. They may have been talking about sim unlock, but reading the policy on bootloader unlocks. Wouldn’t shock me one bit.

  • Rosalvo

    What i don’t seem to understand is why carriers want to hold the phone hostage. After all, if we leave the carrier we still have to pay a penalty if we break our contract. However, the phone is still ours, not the carriers. It seems we as customers end us with the short end of the stick all the time.

    • Cody Revels

      IF people could take their phones to other carriers, then they’re alot more likely to leave.
      For instance, you’re on Verizon, you hate Verizon, but you dont have the money to start a new contract with a new carrier, odds are you’re going to keep your old phone and keep using it on Verizon. But, if you could take that phone to usc, then you prolli would consider doing that.
      But since people can’t do that very often, most people just stay where they are, even if theyre unhappy with their service.

      • Adrynalyne

        That theory falls flat in that currently Verizon probably has more unlocked phones out of the box than other carriers.

        • pct38664

          verizon still relies on cdma for call and texts. so basically it means nothing if their phones are unlocked since the only other company with cdma is sprint

          • Adrynalyne

            Er…all of their unlocked phones are global…none of there locked ones are global.

          • Mike Hilal

            This. ^

          • michael arazan

            And it is a different cdma code all together. Verizon’x cdma code is a proprietary code, means they own it, and it will not work on any other carrier.

  • Steven Berger

    Got really excited by the title…then I saw it was SIM card unlocking :'(

  • Clarified further that this is about SIM unlocking and has nothing to do with bootloaders.

  • Gästur

    Carriers in the US have to much power. In my country you can buy what ever phone you like unlocked and use a “kontantkort”, (translates to “cash card”). It’s a SIM-card you load with the price plan you like.

    Ofcourse you can still buy locked phones from the carriers, sometimes with bloatware. But the carriers here dont have any custom or exclusive phones with specific bands, all phones work with all carriers.

    • Ej McCarty

      which country is this?

      • thenew3

        Most/Many European and Asian countries are like this.

      • Gästur


    • JRomeo

      This is why I buy the Nexus5 in the United States……… same thing…

      • duke69111

        Except it does not work on Verizon, so not really, but close. 🙂

        • JRomeo

          What you say is true…. but it is really close with sprint, tmobile, at&t, and many other smaller carriers, as well as world wide. If only Verizon would stop being so stuck up with their policies and give the Nexus5 the same benefits they give the iPhone, this would solve a lot of problems.

  • enigmaco

    So you can cancel early pay the elf and still get the unlock code. Still makes me happy because I am close to dropping Verizon and want to take my moto x with me.

    • TJWaterskier

      Your Verizon Moto X is already carrier unlocked.

      • Yep, can probably slap an AT&T SIM in there right now and get on HSPA.

        • Albert

          Wait a minute… You are saying that my Motorola Moto X Dev Edition is already carrier unlocked, and I can just put any ole SIM card in it and it will work on that carrier?

          • TJWaterskier

            Yup. Verizon Dev edition, Verizon B/W and Verizon Motomaker

          • sirmeili

            ,I really wish I had know that before buying my motoX last week! I am on verizon now and we don’t really have t-Mobile LTE in my area (or AT&T LTE). I have a month of verizon left and I’m thinking of moving on, but it would have been nice to stay on verizon if I wanted. Darnit!

            BTW, I bought the T-Mobile version of the motoX

          • TJWaterskier

            Just to clarify/agree. I don’t think the Verizon Moto X can snag an LTE signal from TMO or ATT.. but it can definitely do HSPA+ and older.

          • sirmeili

            I understand that, I don’t think I get either TMO or ATT’s LTE in my area, so it wouldn’t matter anyways. The only difference is if I decided to stay with Verizon, I could have (though realistically, I don’t think I will)

          • Aaron C

            Before T-Mo did LTE in my neighborhood, HSPA+ on T-Mobile was still faster than Verizon LTE. Might be the same in many places, if it makes any difference.

          • duke69111

            I wish the verizon phones had all the bands / frequencies needed for the other carriers, even if they were locked and needed a code.

    • Adrynalyne

      I wouldn’t take it unless going to another CDMA carrier.

      That CDMA radio in there still sucks juice, even if not using a CDMA carrier.

      • hebrewHAMMER

        Not trying to call you out, but are you saying the CDMA remains active even when you’re on GSM network? If so, that’s kind of lame.

        • Adrynalyne

          My knowledge of the cell radios is dated, but thats how it used to be. So take it with a grain of salt. Not all Moto X’s use the same radio, and that might be why.

  • jmasterj

    Still sucks for prepaid users. Why should these phones be carrier-locked in the first place?

    • j

      Because carriers WANT you to stay with them.. of course they are going to lock them. Why the hell wouldn’t they

    • MistaButters

      I’m sure those phones are subsidized (at least partially) as well.

      And I’m not talking about “bring your own device” but rather the various carrier branded prepaids that are sold.

  • schoat333

    What I find funny is most phones that are being sold today are already unlocked. Are we going to start seeing carriers lock them to their own network now?

  • akazerotime

    I’m sure someone will correct me but I think we need to clarify what we are “unlocking.” I agree this has nothing to do with bootloaders or custom software. What they are saying is that you are “unlocking” the provisioning of the phone so it can be used on another network if it is capable. Example: Joe Nomoney has a VZW phone and breaks his contract. VZW says Mr. Nomoney owes termination fees and 3 months of service. Mr. Nomoney cannot put that phone on ATT, Sprint or T-mobile (or any other carrier) because the ESN is linked to VZW. What I believe this is saying is that if Nomoney goes out and “unlocks” the ESN by any method other then VZW formal request to put it on another carrier and unlocked directly from VZW, it’s illegal.

    • akazerotime

      SIM unlock is the same as ESN or am I missing something @kellex:disqus

  • Shadowstare

    “Verizon has been shipping unlocked phones for at least a year thanks to an earlier agreement with the FCC”

    What phones? My DNA is DEFINITELY locked by Verizon. Initially, you could unlock it via HTC Dev, but after the first or second update from Verizon, unlocking is impossible unless you visit XDA.

    I like that phones at least have a clear path to becoming unlocked, even if you have to pay the entire contract (or some portion) first.

    • TJWaterskier

      You are confusing boot-loader, s-off etc with Carrier locks. Carrier lock prevents you from using the phone on other providers. The DNA (like most Verizon phones lately) came carrier unlocked. Source: I’ve used it on T-Mobile no problem.

      • Droid Ronin

        How do you use the DNA on T-Mobile? I thought the radios only worked on CDMA networks.

        • TJWaterskier

          Most verizon phones are global now. (They want you to pay for their ridiculous over-seas data plans which go through the foreign GSM networks). As part of some FCC thing a year or so ago all the radios are unlocked though so even state-side carriers work fine (minus-Sprint). Which is why the Verizon versions of phones are technically best vs all other variants (if you travel a lot). It works on almost every carrier. Most if not all flagships coming out of Verizon for the past year or so have been completely global-ready and unlocked phones. I used my old DNA on T-Mobile in the US, Starhub and Singtel in Singapore, Orange in France, and EE in the UK. Just pop in the Sim and go 🙂 Same story with my Moto X so far.

  • Fredy Nativi

    Even though this is about carrier locked phones. The picture for the article is the bootloader unlocked icon, on what a Nexus 5? Try a little harder next time and pick a relevent picture.

    • Joe

      Wow, harsh!

    • Jeff Tycz

      Quick lets go the the verizon store and have an employee give us an unlock code…then we can take a picture and use that

    • T S

      OR. .try a little harder and read the article instead of just the picture and a headline.

    • Using an unlocked lock as a symbol for general “unlocking” is a crime apparently…

      • DoctorJB

        How dare you Kellex, how dare you!??! *shakes fist*

    • J Davis

      If you are going to be critical of someone maybe you should try a little harder next time and learn to spell correctly.. *relevant.

  • Omar Amer

    PSS: This is sctrictly “antenna” locked phones vs unlocked. As in Nexus like vs Galaxy like. More or less, starting with AT&T … cancelling, then going to something like Straight Talk without having to change your phone or number. (I hope this was a good analogy)

  • reading

    Are iPhones carrier locked? What does this mean for republic and their moto x?

    • TJWaterskier

      I believe all iPhones are carrier locked except for the Verizon variant?

    • cgalyon

      I believe that if the hardware simply prevents a phone from working on another carrier, then they have no obligation to change it. This policy means that if your phone hardware can work on different networks (e.g., AT&T and T-Mobile), then the carrier can’t lock down the software to prevent you from switching. For Republic Wireless, this will probably mean nothing as there is a fundamental hardware and software incompatibility. They aren’t locking you in, the phone just “canna do it!”

  • ITGuy11

    Just buy Nexus phones and don’t worry about having to unlock.

    • Chris

      what about those who want better experiences? Nexus devices don’t always offer top notch specs or a feature set

      • DoctorJB

        Yeah, I can’t wait to replace this Snapdragon 800 with a….um, nevermind.

    • Jason Downing

      This solution still doesn’t help Verizon customers.

      • TJWaterskier

        Almost all Verizon phones come carrier unlocked now.

        • michael arazan

          The only one I’ve seen, other than the iphone is the new Droid series, when it was reported that it would work on att, but that was it. If all these phones are universal, then why is their a universal phone for carriers and a separate for Verizon only?

          • TJWaterskier

            Because the universal ones don’t include the proprietary verizon CDMA radios. So they make a separate super universal one that includes the Verizon radios to get at Verizon’s 90 gazillion subscribers 🙂

      • T S

        on a few phones. the LG G2 being one of them.

        • Jason Downing

          You know what, I wasn’t aware of this and I have a G2

  • John Motschenbacher

    the symbol in the picture really doesn’t make sense. that’s not the unlocking this was all about. bootloader unlocking like on a nexus is perfectly legal. the subsidy unlock from a gsm carrier is what this was all about.

    • JBartcaps

      They know

    • Hybris

      I think they were going for generic symbol that represents the world “unlock.” I kinda liked the symbolism, don’t read too much into it lol.

    • Ej McCarty

      I think everyone understands that. Would you rather them change the picture to a Verizon employee sending you a code. calm down.

      • ^^

      • moelsen8

        i vote this guy’s image on every post containing the word “unlock” going forward. that would be pretty funny, and fresh!

    • It’s a lock that is unlocked, that’s all it’s meant to show. We are fully aware that that is the bootloader unlock symbol on Nexus phones.

      • mustbepbs

        It’s sending mixed messages to morons who can’t read, which is a large portion of the internet.

        • Can’t help ’em all. 😛

        • zionlion02

          Luckily those morons don’t know what a bootloader is…. 🙂

    • Jason Downing

      You know what? Somehow I think they know that.