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

(View all)
Avatar
90 months ago
I still will only buy unlocked from Apple. Do not buy from carriers.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
90 months ago
And how will this take 12 months to implement? Oh right, wring out the customers first.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
90 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)
Avatar
90 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)
Avatar
90 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)
Avatar
90 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

iPhone 12 Pro in Graphite and iPhone 12 in Blue Shown Off in Unboxing Videos

Monday October 19, 2020 8:20 am PDT by
While the iPhone 12 Pro does not launch until Friday, we now have an early unboxing video of the device courtesy of Twitter account DuanRui, providing a closer look at the shiny new flat-edge design and sleek Graphite color option. Ben Geskin re-uploaded the unboxing video to YouTube, which we've embedded below: Geskin has also uploaded an unboxing video of the iPhone 12 in Blue: ...

Kuo: iPhone 12 Pro Demand Higher Than Expected

Sunday October 18, 2020 10:39 pm PDT by
TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo released a research note this morning detailing what he's seen with the volume of iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro pre-orders in the first weekend of sales. Kuo had previously indicated that Apple's estimated shipment allocations for the new iPhone models placed the iPhone 12 at the top with 40-45% of inventory allocation (up from 15-20%). However, ...

New Photos Offer Better Look at iPhone 12 Color Options

Tuesday October 20, 2020 2:34 am PDT by
As we wait for the iPhone 12 review embargo to lift later today, more pictures are circulating of the devices in real-world lighting conditions, providing a better look at the different colors available. Leaker DuanRui has shared images on Twitter of the iPhone 12 in white, black, blue, green, and (PRODUCT)RED. The black and white colors are similar to the iPhone 11 colors, but the other...

Hands-On With Apple's MagSafe Charger for iPhone 12

Monday October 19, 2020 11:54 am PDT by
Alongside the new iPhone 12 models, Apple introduced a MagSafe charger that attaches to the back of the iPhones using magnets embedded both in the charger and in the iPhone. It allows for speedier charging and paves the way for a portless iPhone in the future. MagSafe chargers are shipping out and are in some Apple retail locations now, and we picked one up to check it out. Subscribe to the ...

Some Apple Watch SE Owners Experiencing Issues With Overheating [Updated]

Monday October 19, 2020 11:38 am PDT by
There may be an issue with the new Apple Watch SE, which some users have found is overheating after a few hours of usage. Several Apple Watch SE owners in South Korea have run into problems, as noted in a Reddit post chronicling the complaints. There have been six reports from Apple Watch SE owners in South Korea who have had their Apple Watches get hot and malfunction, with a yellow spot...

Apple's New MagSafe Charger and Cases Begin Arriving to Customers

Saturday October 17, 2020 10:10 am PDT by
Apple's new MagSafe charger and cases have begun arriving to some customers earlier than expected, and images of the accessories have started to surface on Twitter. The photos provide a first look at the products in real-world use. As of writing, some MagSafe cases are also available for pickup at select Apple Stores in countries like the United States, Canada, and Germany. Filip...

Apple Releases iPadOS and iOS 14.1 With Multiple Bug Fixes Ahead of iPhone 12 Launch

Tuesday October 20, 2020 10:06 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS and iPadOS 14.1, the first major updates to the iOS and iPadOS 14 operating system updates that were released in September. iOS and iPadOS 14.1 come a week after Apple released the golden master versions of the updates to developers. The iOS 14.1 update can be downloaded for free and it is available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access...

Watch: iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro Unboxing Videos and First Impressions

Tuesday October 20, 2020 6:05 am PDT by
Apple's embargo has lifted for iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro reviews. In addition to our detailed review roundups for each device, we've rounded up over a dozen unboxing videos and first impressions below. iPhone 12 in Blue on left and iPhone 12 Pro in Pacific Blue on right via Engadget Key new features of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro include a flat-edge design, 5G support, a much faster A14 ...

Apple Plans to Enable 5G in Dual SIM Mode With Software Update Later This Year

Monday October 19, 2020 9:20 am PDT by
iPhone XS models and newer feature both a physical SIM slot and a digital eSIM, allowing for a feature known as dual SIM, dual standby. This means you can have two lines of service on one iPhone, which is useful for purchasing data-only plans while traveling abroad or having personal and business lines on a single iPhone. 5G will not be available in Dual SIM mode on the iPhone 12 and iPhone...

Brazilian Certifications Suggest iPhone 12 Mini Features 2,227mAh Battery and iPhone 12 Has 2,815mAh Battery

Friday October 16, 2020 1:08 pm PDT by
Apple's iPhone mini has the shortest battery life out of all the iPhones in the iPhone 12 lineup due to its small size, but Apple has not provided public information about the battery's capacity. A regulatory filing from Brazil, however, suggests the iPhone 12 mini has a battery capacity of 2,227mAh. The same regulatory information says the iPhone 12 features a 2,815mAh battery, which is...