FCC and carriers said to be nearing agreement on new cellphone unlocking rules [UPDATED]

Alex Wagner
Editorial Director of News and Content from  Omaha, NE
| December 12, 2013


The unlocking of cellphones has been a pretty hot topic throughout 2013. It all started in January when a change with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) made unlocking a phone without your carrier's permission illegal, and since then we've seen the FCC chairman, the president and thousands of consumers voice their concern about the problem. It sounds like we may finally be near a solution, though, as a new report says that the FCC and carriers are close to an agreement on the matter.

According to Reuters, the U.S. operators and the FCC are finishing up a deal that will make it easier for consumers to unlock their handsets. The deal will reportedly require operators to notify their customers when they can unlock a device and would also set a two-day deadline for carriers to approve or deny unlock requests. It's said that the final issues that need to be worked out relate to how quickly these new unlock policies will be rolled out, ways that the phones can be kept off of the black market and whether or not prepaid phones will be covered by the new rules.

I'll have to wait until this new deal between the carriers and FCC is official before making any judgments about it, but so far this deal sounds like a nice improvement over the current unlocking situation. While customers will still need to get approval from a carrier to get their device unlocked, these new rules should make the unlocking process more uniform across all of the operators and make it easier for a customer to know when he or she can free their phone from its shackles. The topic of mobile device unlocking is on the agenda for an FCC Open Meeting that will take place at 2:30 p.m. today, so here's to hoping that we get some official word on these new rules then.

UPDATE: An agreement between the FCC and the big five U.S. carriers has officially been reached. The CTIA announced this afternoon that AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless have all committed to following a set of standards for unlocking eligible phones and tablets. That set of principles include:

  • Disclosure: A clear, concise and readily available page on the carrier's website that outlines its policies regarding the unlocking of prepaid and postpaid devices.
  • Postpaid device unlocking: Carriers will either unlock the devices of customers and former customers or provide information on how to obtain an unlock after the consumer has completed his or her contract, financing plan or payment of an ETF.
  • Prepaid device unlocking: Carriers will unlock a prepaid device no later than one year after its initial activation.
  • Notice: When a customer's device becomes eligible for an unlock, the carriers will either notify the user of their device's eligibility or automatically unlock the product at no additional fee. Carriers can still charge non-customers and non-former customers for an unlock.
  • Response time: Within two days after a carrier receives an unlock request, it must either unlock the device, send a request to the OEM to begin the unlock process, deny the unlock request with an explanation of why it was denied or explain that it needs additional time to complete the unlock.
  • Deployed personnel unlocking: Carriers will unlock the hardware of deployed military personnel so long as they have an account in good standing and can show deployment papers.

Via Reuters, CTIA