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.

Top Rated Comments

macigo Avatar
93 months ago
I still will only buy unlocked from Apple. Do not buy from carriers.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Klae17 Avatar
93 months ago
And how will this take 12 months to implement? Oh right, wring out the customers first.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
theheadguy Avatar
93 months ago
The entire concept of locking phones is comical. Customers should pay their bills because they owe the money, not because the carrier can hold them hostage. If bills aren't paid, multi-billion dollar cellular service corporations have the same avenues to collect past due amounts as any other company, they need not keep our phones hostage.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
BWhaler Avatar
93 months ago

I always hate "voluntary" agreements companies make because they can change if and when the companies want. Many people don't realize that safety recalls in the US are nearly always voluntary, even for things that are clearly a health risk (salmonella, etc.).

Government does actually serve a purpose, and protecting the safety and rights of consumers is certainly one thing that governments should be doing. So while this is a step in the right direction, companies should be forced to unlock devices that consumers have paid for, it shouldn't be just if the carriers decide they want to be nice enough to do it.


I hope you vote, because we need more people like you.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
autrefois Avatar
93 months ago
I always hate "voluntary" agreements companies make because they can change if and when the companies want. Many people don't realize that safety recalls in the US are nearly always voluntary, even for things that are clearly a health risk (salmonella, etc.).

Government does actually serve a purpose, and protecting the safety and rights of consumers is certainly one thing that governments should be doing. So while this is a step in the right direction, companies should be forced to unlock devices that consumers have paid for, it shouldn't be just if the carriers decide they want to be nice enough to do it.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
xmaseve Avatar
93 months ago

The entire concept of locking phones is comical. Customers should pay their bills because they owe the money, not because the carrier can hold them hostage. If bills aren't paid, multi-billion dollar cellular service corporations have the same avenues to collect past due amounts as any other company, they need not keep our phones hostage.


I couldn't have said it better myself.

What we really need is companies like Apple and Samsung to simply make one model unlocked phone, instead of caving into the carriers and allowing them to be locked in the first place. This would certainly help with making it much easier to sell the phones and also with manufacturing. Imagine how nice it would be to not have to be asked "what carrier" when you go to buy an iPhone.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

16inchmacbookpromain

Kuo: New MacBook Pro Models to Feature Flat-Edged Design, MagSafe, No Touch Bar and More Ports

Thursday January 14, 2021 9:32 pm PST by
Apple is working on two new MacBook Pro models that will feature significant design changes, well-respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said today in a note to investors that was obtained by MacRumors. According to Kuo, Apple is developing two models in 14 and 16-inch size options. The new MacBook Pro machines will feature a flat-edged design, which Kuo describes as "similar to the iPhone 12" ...
foldable iPhone concept feature

Apple Testing In-Display Fingerprint Sensor for iPhone 13, Foldable iPhone Also in the Works

Friday January 15, 2021 1:46 pm PST by
Apple has started "early work" on an iPhone that has a foldable display, according to a new report from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. Though testing of a foldable iPhone has begun, Apple has not committed to releasing a device that has a foldable display. Development has not yet expanded beyond a display and Apple does not have full foldable iPhone prototypes in its labs. Like foldable...
iphone x camera close

iOS 14.4 Will Introduce Warning on iPhones With Non-Genuine Cameras

Thursday January 14, 2021 8:07 am PST by
In the second beta of iOS 14.4 seeded to developers and public testers this week, MacRumors contributor Steve Moser has discovered code indicating that Apple will be introducing a new warning on iPhones that have had their camera repaired or replaced with aftermarket components rather than genuine Apple components. "Unable to verify this iPhone has a genuine Apple camera," the message will...
iP12 charge airpods feature 2

Hidden iPhone 12 Hardware Feature Could Still be Unlocked

Thursday January 14, 2021 2:51 am PST by
All iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro models purportedly have a hidden reverse wireless charging feature, according to an FCC filing. The feature has not yet been activated, but could yet be unlocked for an upcoming Apple accessory. The FCC filing suggests that iPhone 12 models contain the hardware for Wireless Power Transfer (WPT) to accessories: In addition to being able to be charged by a...
Top Stories 43 Feature

Top Stories: MacBook Pro, iMac, Mac Pro, and iPhone Rumors, Best of CES 2021

Saturday January 16, 2021 6:00 am PST by
This week was sure a busy one in the Apple world, with a flurry of announcements out of CES early in the week followed by a rash of Mac- and iPhone-related rumors later in the week. The new rumors this week included details on updated MacBook Pro, iMac, and Mac Pro models, as well as a few other tidbits, so make sure to read on below to get caught up! Kuo: New MacBook Pro Models to...
iphone 5s black slate

Images of Unreleased iPhone 5s in Black and Slate Shared Online

Sunday January 17, 2021 9:47 am PST by
Twitter user @DongleBookPro has today shared images of a prototype iPhone 5s in an unreleased Black and Slate color. The iPhone 5s was launched in September 2013. The device featured Touch ID, a 64-bit processor, and a True Tone LED flash for the first time. Other new features included a five-element lens with an f/2.2 aperture, a 15 percent larger camera sensor, Burst Mode, and Slo-Mo...
Apple TV Ray Light 2 Triad

Apple Extends Free Apple TV+ Trials Until July

Friday January 15, 2021 10:50 am PST by
Apple is once again planning to extend its free Apple TV+ trial subscriptions, this time until July. When Apple TV+ launched in November 2019, Apple offered free Apple TV+ subscriptions to those who purchased a new Apple device in or after September 2019. Those free subscriptions were set to expire in November 2020, but in October 2020, Apple announced that it was extending free trials...
pat gelsinger intel

Incoming Intel CEO Derides Company's Inability to 'Deliver Better Products' Than Apple's M1 Chip

Friday January 15, 2021 6:17 am PST by
Incoming Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger has said that the company must "deliver better products" than Apple, which he described as a "lifestyle company," and says that Intel's best days are "in front of it" (via The Oregonian). Speaking at an Intel all-hands meeting yesterday, Gelsinger derisively implied that Apple is merely a "lifestyle company," so Intel must be able to surpass its technology: ...
mac pro mini feature

Apple Working on Two New Mac Pro Desktops, One of Which Will Be Reminiscent of Power Mac G4 Cube

Friday January 15, 2021 10:23 am PST by
Apple is developing two versions of the Mac Pro to succeed the Mac Pro that was first released in December 2019, according to a new report from Bloomberg. The first updated Mac Pro is a direct successor to the current Mac Pro and it will use the same design. It may also be equipped with Intel processors rather than Apple silicon chips, and it could be one of the sole machines in the Mac...
macbook pro 16 inch thunderbolt

Bloomberg: Next-Generation MacBook Pro to Offer Improved Displays, Faster Charging Over MagSafe

Thursday January 14, 2021 11:36 pm PST by
Following today's report from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo outlining major changes for the next-generation MacBook Pro models coming in the third quarter of this year, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman has weighed in with his own report corroborating some of the details but seemingly differing a bit on others. First, Gurman shares more details on the return of MagSafe charging to the MacBook Pro, indicating...