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Chairman claims carriers should notify customers when phones can be unlocked

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler hasn't completed his first week on the job, but that doesn't mean it's too early to start laying the groundwork for future policies. In a letter to the CTIA today, the Chairman urged the wireless carrier association to reconsider its opaque and frustrating stance on cell phone unlocking. Building on groundwork between the FCC, federal government and carriers previously, the letter breaks down a five point plan that Chairman Wheeler thinks is a more consumer-friendly option:

  • Provide a clear, concise, and readily accessible policy on unlocking.
  • Unlock mobile wireless devices for customers, former customers, and legitimate owners when the applicable service contract, installment plan, or ETF has been fulfilled.
  • Affirmatively notify customers when their devices are eligible for unlocking and/or automatically unlock devices when eligible, without an additional fee.
  • Process unlocking requests or provide an explanation of denial within two business days.
  • Unlock devices for military personnel upon deployment.

Wheeler indicates that the FCC is "anxious to work with [the CTIA]" on the proposal, but the carrier group is reluctant to budge on the third of five points regarding notifying customers when their phones can be unlocked. He says that enough time has passed, and it's time for the CTIA to make this move towards solid policies on phone unlocking before the holiday season this year.

While this isn't a threat by any means, it's more than a bit strongly worded indicating that the FCC is done waiting for the carriers to get up to speed on phone unlocking. This simple five-point plan sounds drastically more consumer-friendly than what is currently being offered, so let's hope the CTIA gets on board sooner rather than later.

Source: FCC; Via: Engadget


Reader comments

New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler sends stern letter to CTIA urging phone unlocking reform


Good guy Tom Wheeler
Doesn't even complete first week at work
Already does something good for citizens

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Can we please allow third party unlocking services to be legal again. I don't mind paying for it to avoid the hassle of dealing with a carrier who I may or may not be a customer of anymore. I buy my phones used and have prepaid plans so I'm usually not the original owner or on the carrier the original owner was using the device on.

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"Chairman claims carriers should notify customers when phones can be unlocked".

Tom, Tom, Tom.....
You've got it all backwards. You should be notifying carriers that phones MAY NOT BE LOCKED period.

Sears didn't lock my refrigerator.
Best Buy didn't lock my TV set.
Chrysler didn't lock my car.

Carriers have a bit of standing on locking devices when you buy on contract. I think that's part of the goal here -- making the carriers at least tell you when you're out of contract that your phone can then be unlocked. And also making sure they unlock if you pay an ETF.

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Can I request unlock of my Sprint phone and still use it on Sprint as my carrier until I'm ready to switch to a MVNO like Ting?

Also, I wonder if Ting and / or Boost get second Tier cell signal availability e.g. when call traffic is heavy do I get bumped off or degraded signal strength. Ting, for example, claims to roam on Verizon while operating on the Sprint network.

All Sprint devices will roam on Verizon too, but only of there's absolutely no trace of a Sprint signal. I don't see why an unlocked device wouldn't continue to work on the network either, they'd be poking the FCC in the eye if they suddenly started blacklisting unlocked devices... The Nexus 5 is unlocked out of the box too and faces no issues.

Whether MVNOs fall on a lower tier of service or get bumped by QoS largely depends on the carrier and I doubt they'll disclose the specifics of that, I'm sure it's common scenario though. It's in their interest to keep their primary customers happy ahead of the MVNO's costumers.

Thanks for your insight, Impulses.

I would like a more definitive information source on the second issue. MVNO 's alleged second Tier or bumped down service other than innuendo or self serving scare tactics by vested interests. As you suggest, I'm sure it depends on the MVNO, local conditions and a myriad of other factors, just as is signal performance integrity among US carriers. Perhaps I'm asking the impossible. Maybe it is simply try the MVNO relatively risk free and self determine.

You didn't buy the refrigerator from the electric company, the TV from the cable company or the car from the gas company.

The analogy isn't very good.

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Or at least, like it's the case in my country, allow unlocking from day one. You're of course still bound by your contract, meaning ylu'll have to pay the monthly bills until it ends. But whether you actually USE that contract is your own decision.

I know a few times I've bought a device on contract (which is 6 months here) only to replace the SIM with my existing one right away. Simply because the total 6-month contract costs were less expensive than buying off-contract.

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A stern letter, that went promptly in the trash.

Verizon and AT&T are part owners of the politicians who shape the directives of the FCC. When this changes, other things can change.


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When I read stern letters like this to the carriers, I think to myself that some politician thinks his pockets are feeling a little empty of lobbying dollars.

Posted via Android Central App using an LG G2.

Exactly. There is a rumor Washington is pissed about Apple's lack of lobbyists, so we should start seeing this talk about Apple soon.


1. Buy off-contract device
2. Get 1-month rolling contract
3. ???
4. Profit

Jokes aside, I know this isn't a financially viable option for everyone, but it sure is nice to be able to pop whatever SIM I want into my device and not worry.

The chairman's heart is in the right place, and maybe there'll be some progress on this, but short of it bring an order, these carriers won't go along with it (except like T-Mobile, of course...) and you can forget Verizon and Sprint. Unless you've got a CDMA/GSM combo phone from one of them, unlocking is a meaningless concept.

These companies are too used to having their way in this country, and as was pointed out above, they own the government basically. Gotta love lobbyists!

The entire government? They must be powerful. Let's be real, any "regulation" has done nothing but help these companies. Even the break up of Ma'Bell was a huge bust. The country lost Bell Labs and all the baby bells have been bought back up. Most regulation is written by the companies it is supposed to hurt, and most of the time it just makes it harder to get new companies in the market. Take a look at the history of the car industry as the best example.


Doesn't Verizon already unlock their devices as long as they are active on the account? I thought one of my friends got this done from them.

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How is this helpful? So he wants carriers to unlock phones after a contract, so what. This helps like 10 people a year who switch mid contract. Plus how many phones can actually make the full switch? We are not Europe, all on the same gsm networks.

And, if you buy on contract, it's kind of dumb to go to another carrier, with a device. Your not getting a better deal on your bill. Most 2 year old phones are worse, or at least the same as the current free or cheap phones on contract, so you would be better off on contract again, with that cheap subsidized phone.

This is a way to get nerds on the fcc's side so another government agency can get more data out of you (new speed test app) and you will do it with a F-MY CARRIER attitude.


I got mine unlocked while still on contract by telling At&t I was traveling to Europe and needed to use it over there. They gave me a code for free and that was that.

How about as part of the unlocking process when you are off contract, you are able to remove carrier bloat as well?

Why is he asking the carriers to consider what they are already doing? Carriers have already made it clear that after the contract is fulfilled they will unlock. And they do. The problem is that the carriers will not unlock the phone during contract even when they have early termination fee in place to protect their behind.

And I agree with the previous poster. Whoa the about them blocking Google wallet nfc payment for heir own ISIS? That is an evil business practice that hurts not only other competitors but also consumers.

I'd prefer reform FORCING them to take my phone, if it's compatible they should allow me on their network.

Tom Wheeler is great! Will all of this come to be? Maybe half of it because I doubt it will be an easy road (Unlocked phones for deployment is a great idea and I see that being the one easiest to make happen.)