After weeks of deliberation and media coverage in the wake of newly-installed FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s comments on unlocking devices from carriers, the regulator, along with the CTIA lobbying group which represents the US wireless industry has announced that an accord has been reached detailing the new rules all carriers, and to a lesser extent, manufacturers must follow in regards to unlocking customer devices once customers have fulfilled their agreements and are in good standing in the US.
First, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless have all agreed to the new unlocking policies which now consist of the following rules going forward:
- The above carriers will post to their web site clear details that define what phones can and cannot be unlocked.
- The above carriers will unlock all phones upon request as long as customers have fulfilled their contractual obligations.
- Prepaid devices available on the above carriers will be unlocked no later than one year after their initial activation date with no provision for immediate unlocking after purchase, or any provision for virtual operators operating on the networks of the above mentioned carriers.
- The above carriers will unlock devices within two days after customers request that their phones be unlocked, initiate a request with the manufacturer to unlock the device, or explain to consumers why their device cannot be unlocked.
- The above carriers agree that they will notify customers proactively once their devices are eligible to be unlocked.
- The above carriers will unlock the devices of all deployed military personnel who are in good standing.
- The above carriers will also have the option of denying an unlock request if fraud or theft is suspected.
However, not all of the above policy changes will be implemented by all carriers immediately or simultaneously, with all carriers having to adopt three of the above policies within 3 months, and all policies within a year from today’s announcement, significantly blunting the actual impact of the new agreement.
While AT&T and T-Mobile will better be able to implement all of the above policies, including the unlocking policies, Verizon, Sprint and US Cellular’s devices face more work in terms of unlocking and portability, as their respective lineups feature heavily customized devices that can’t be easily activated across their respective networks without significant reprogramming. As the above carriers have also pursued LTE networks on incompatible bands, those issues will also have to be factored into the adoption of the new unlocking rules by the aforementioned carriers.