Some U.S. wireless carriers have historically been more lenient about unlocking phones than others, but starting today they are all mandated to provide unlocking once a customer’s contract is up. One year ago, the FCC announced a voluntary commitment among a number of mobile wireless service providers to adopt policies that allow their customers to switch networks while keeping their existing devices – a process called cell phone unlocking. That commitment came with a one-year deadline. Today the country’s major wireless providers have met their commitment.
Under this commitment, participating wireless providers will unlock postpaid mobile device upon request, provided the terms and conditions of services contract or installment plan have been met and user account is in good standing. The wireless providers will unlock prepaid mobile devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time and usage requirements. Carriers will clearly notify its customers when their postpaid device is eligible for unlocking if the device is not automatically unlocked. Additionally, the wireless provider will post on its website a clear, concise, and easily found policy on mobile wireless device unlocking.
Each wireless provider agrees to abide by the following six principles:
- 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 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/nonformer-customers with 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 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.
The agreement allows postpaid users to have their phone unlocked at the end of their contract, assuming all bills are paid, while prepaid users can have the device unlocked no later than a year after starting service with an operator. Providers must notify customers when they are eligible for unlocking or unlock the device automatically.
AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Bluegrass Cellular, Cellcom, and U.S. Cellular are all on board in the participating wireless providers. There are other mandates in the new policy that are beneficial to consumers, like a mandatory 14-day trial for postpaid plans, maps showing specific coverage a carrier offers in a certain area, and more.