U.S. Carriers and FCC Come to Agreement Over Consumer Unlocking of Mobile Devices

CTIAThe five major U.S. carriers have come to an agreement with the FCC over a set of voluntary industry principles to make it easier for wireless customers to unlock their devices and switch from carrier to carrier if they wish. The CTIA — the industry trade group representing AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon in the matter — says it will recommend the principles be added to the group’s “Consumer Code for Wireless Service” and the carriers will commit to implement them within 12 months.

The terms agreed to include [PDF]:

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

– 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.

– 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.

– 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.

– 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.

– 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.

Carriers reserve the right to decline an unlock request if they have a reasonable basis to believe the request is fraudulent or the device is stolen.

iPhone Unlock
In a statement issued after the agreement was announced, the CTIA noted that “unlocking devices may not necessarily mean full interoperability since devices that work on one provider’s network may not be technologically compatible with another wireless provider’s network” and that unlocking a device may enable some functionality but not necessarily all.

Early this year, the Library of Congress ruled that it was illegal for certain mobile phone owners to unlock their phones unless specifically authorized by their carrier. This past September, the Obama administration filed a petition with the FCC, asking that carriers be required to unlock mobile devices. This voluntary agreement between the FCC and carriers would appear to forestall the need for legal action by either Congress or the FCC.

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