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Top US Carriers Agree to Six Cellphone Unlocking “Principles”

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It seems like US carriers have seen the signs on the wall and decided to capitulate before they are forced to. CTIA and the FCC have announced that the top five US carriers have decided to adopt the CTIA Consumer Code for Wireless Service. The carriers are Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, US Cellular, and Verizon. The new guidelines are nowhere near as simple as I would like (all devices should ship unlocked?) but they are a huge step in the right direction. The sad part is that there are quite a few catches and loopholes for carriers. They also have only committed to implement only 3 of the unspecified principles within 3 months and the remainder within 12 months.

Here are the six principles:

  1. 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-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
  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 for deployed military personnel who are customers in good standing upon provision of deployment papers

Check out the full details at the CTIA website (full details in this PDF)

6 total comments on this postSubmit your comment!
  1. What exactly is everyone’s fascination with having their phones unlocked? I get that it gives the freedom to jump to a different carrier, but as I understand it, at least here in the U.S., the major carriers don’t use compatible signals/hardware. And even if the device will work on another carrier’s network, you won’t enjoy the same service; i.e. a device now receiving 4G LTE service on Verizon would only receive, at best, 3G service on AT&T’s network. So what’s the point of unlocking the phone just to move to a different carrier and get reduced service. To get the full benefits, you still have to buy a proprietary device from the new carrier.

    Correct me if I’m misguided here. I freely admit I don’t fully understand it.

  2. “It seems like US carriers have seen the signs on the wall and decided to capitulate before they are forced to.”
    I disagree. These “new” principles are not at all as consumer-friendly as they should be. There are so many layers of obfuscation the carriers are STILL allowed to apply, all these are is an attempt to LOOK like they are doing something in the consumer’s interest but nothing has really changed.

  3. Yeah I am waiting for the death if locked cellphones

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