SIM cards

Phone unlocking to be 'expeditious and transparent,' while not affecting service contracts

The Obama administration, by way of the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration), today officially petitioned the FCC to voice its opinion that carriers should be required unlock customer's phones. The petition cuts right to the point, stating that US consumers should be able to request that their phone, tablet or other device be unlocked — and have it done free of charge and with no strings attached.

“Americans should be able to use their mobile devices on whatever networks they choose and have their devices unlocked without hassle."

Said NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling, going further to say that the burden of handling unlocking should be put on the carrier, not the users, and that the process should be "expeditious and transparent." A Library of Congress decision regarding the DMCA took the ability for consumers to legally unlock their phones last year, and this petition hopes to secure these rights outside of that act.

The NTIA claims that carriers have plenty of mechanisms for keeping customers on their networks and following their rules, regardless of ability to unlock a handset and take it to a competitor. And we can likely all agree that this is the case, as unlocking a phone doesn't change the fact that you may still be in a service contract with that carrier.

Although this is a great step in the direction of consumers having control over their devices, it's up to the FCC to create the framework for this to happen. The NTIA is hoping to get the ball rolling though, stating:

"The petition requests that the FCC immediately initiate the process of setting rules that protect Americans’ investments in mobile devices by allowing them to use their equipment with any compatible network."

The Obama administration has seemed to stay on the side of consumers with previous statements on this matter, but we have to hope that the FCC can set a strong framework to make sure carriers not only are required to unlock phones but are also held accountable for following the laws. As we all know, carriers don't always follow through on FCC requirements to be open with devices.

Source: Washington Post; NTIA

 

Reader comments

Obama administration petitions FCC to require carriers to unlock phones

180 Comments

Agreed. I actually have no problem with carriers locking phones during the subsidization period or until the contract is settled (ETF paid and all), but after that, they should immediately unlock the devices.

I played hell getting Verizon to unlock 2 phones that were long out of contract, and we had been a customer for over 10 years. We were initially told that it was impossible, then that it was possible but they don't do it. I finally had to lie and tell them that we were going to be traveling abroad and needed to use local networks while there. Totally unnecessary hassle for devices that we own outright.

On the other hand, I recently unlocked my old iPhone 3G on AT&T despite not being a customer for almost 4 years. Went to a page on their web site, submitted the phone's IMEI number, my old phone number and a few other miscellaneous details, and got an e-mail back within a few hours confirming that it's eligible for unlocking.

Say what you want about Verizon's network, but they're a total bunch 'a greedy bastards.

If something this minor is keeping your attention from the real problems happening right now, then you are easily distracted.

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Stfu!! Why must people always get upset right away when a small political comment is made. I know this isn't a place for politics and I do not care to discuss them with anyone here but there's no need to be rude about it.

Overreact much. My comment wasn't even rude. Just an observation. Also nothing in my comment would suggest I was upset.

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I've might have overreacted and I apologize for that but I believe the "keep it to yourself" comment wasn't needed.

Aren't people smart enough to tackle multiple issues at hand? Are you saying that people have to focus on one single issue at a time? If its too hard for you to focus on multiple issues all in one sitting, I feel bad for you. The government is a series of cogs and moving parts all doing jobs and tackling issues everyday for the millions of Americans and their livelihoods.

Telling someone to "keep it to yourself" when said person looks to be trying to start an off-topic political argument on a tech site is pretty appropriate.

Hmmmm. Just a observation... Let's just say 1 Hope this petition goes through...
2. Being The President isn't easy...

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True...try to be the president and let's see if you can still comment like that.

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If you know this isn't the place, and you don't want to discuss it, why make the comment in the first place?

*one of the extremely rare cases in which Obama can do something good without getting blocked by the GOP in Congress

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Political parties are not necessarily there to agree with one another. If they were why have more than one?
There are numerous political parties because Americans have numerous opinions.

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Don't be fooled. Both parties are the same carrying out the same agenda. Just another distraction to keep the populace against each other.

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If he wanted to do something good he could have issued a Executive Order, both to the FCC and the DOJ to prosecute the carriers for illegal restraint of trade and be done with the issue. Instead we get this community organizer approach.

And if he issued an executive order, you ignorant idiots would be complaining about executive overreach and him being a "dictator."

Just STFU with the political spin.

I really..really hate when someone says this, not everyone is able to root their phone and not everyone is able to buy a nexus.

Not true. Almost everybody who would want to unlock their phone could definitely root it, and pretty much anybody in a locked-phone atmosphere could have bought a nexus just as easily as the phone they have.

That being said, not everyone wants to have to make either of those sacrifices. That is the problem. Not the difficulty (very little) of rooting or the expense (comparatively little) of buying a nexus.

That might be true of older phones, but newer devices should allow the consumer the option of unlocking the bootloader, which in turn would give us the ability to root.

That might be true of older phones, but newer devices should allow the consumer the option of unlocking the bootloader, which in turn would give us the ability to root.

When I was going overseas, I wanted to SIM-unlock my Galaxy S2 Skyrocket. AT&T claimed that because the phone was exclusive to them, they didn't have the ability to unlock this device. I then took it upon myself to unlock it on my own.

Unlocking and rooting is still more complicated than it needs to be. I shouldn't have to download software to unlock/root my phone. WebOS still gets the win here (one of the very few places).

Yeah, my comment didn't come off the way I meant it to. I meant to say for the time being, it's an immediate solution.

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This. Absolutely.

Especially in times when they're limiting data and releasing phones without expandable storage; I'm fine with putting whatever bloat they want on the phones, SOMEtimes it's even useful! but for the love of anything you consider holy let us remove it if we don't find it useful.

Ditto. I can put up with some level of custom skin over stock Android, but it irritates me when there's carrier apps that aren't any better (maybe even worse) than a 3rd party app I can get on my own. Granted, the average consumer doesn't know any better and will use the carrier app, but those of us that configure the phone anyway we want, I want to be able to remove the bloat without hassle.

One could argue that while you're still paying the subsidy for the device, you really don't hold a right to removing carrier bloatware until the subsidy is paid.

That being said... once a subsidy is paid, your carrier plan should also reflect that in a reduced monthly cost, and at that point you should have the right to do whatever you wish with your device.

Heyyy...I know you :D

Pleasantries aside, Is bloatware the "software" carriers are trying to use in their "unlocking harms us" argument? Shit that I'd venture to say most people don't want or care about?

I don't accept your argument.

Its like saying your bank gets to tell you who you can take for a ride in your car until you make the last payment, or Best Buy gets to decide what you watch on that 60 inch TV till its all paid off.

You bought it on time payments, but its still yours from day one, as long as you make payments.

It's not the same. The bank is financing your car, not subsidizing its cost. Is AT&T supposed to come to your house and repo your phone when you default? They make their money off selling phone service. If people were allowed to unlock their phones before the subsidy is paid off and just immediately switch providers the subsidy would disappear overnight. Why should AT&T sell you a $700 phone for $200?

What SHOULD be is providers shouldn't sell phones. You go wherever and you buy your phone at full price. You take your phone around and shop for service. Phones would get better, service would get better and would cost less.

This. Carriers should only focus on one thing - service. I don't need them to manage my life, or install 30 apps on my phone before I even buy it just because they are trying to 'add value' or better yet suck me into additional services. All I need them to do is just provide great coverage/service.

However, I will say that us as a nation has been spoiled with $200-$300 phones, and it would be a big shift for us to start spending $600-$700. But I gotta imagine that the vendors would probably start offering discounts as well, and maybe we'd end up somewhere in the middle ($400-$500 phones?).

It is the same thing. AT&T isn't giving you a gift with the subsidy. You pay it off through your plan. No, they don't repo your phone of you stop paying for service but they do charge you a fee to cover the cost of the device you never finished paying off with your monthly plan.

It is a sad day when POTUS has to step in to do the job that the FCC lacks the competence to do.

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The FCC is a federal agency of the Executive Branch. They are a useful tool of the President's policies, hence they ARE the President. If the FCC hasn't had the initiative to enforce their own regulations... that is the fault of the President. He needs to have the stones to stand by his own policies, and see them through to implementation.

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No, not really... My point was that if the president wants to require companies to do this, he has the power to issue an executive order and have the FCC enforce it. Whenever (if ever) he decides to do that, things will change. Until then, it's all just lip service from Lord Teleprompter.

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Wow. You are so wrong. The FCC is made up of five commissioners posted by presidents to five year terms. Once they're appointed, they're independent. The President could issue whatever executive order he wants, and the commissioners can completely ignore it. Do us all a favor and don't open your mouth when you don't know what you're talking about (hint, talking point from faux news don't count as knowing what you're talking about).

Wow. You are so gullible to think all appointees act independently of the President's desires. There is a reason why they are chosen by him in the first place. And the FCC currently only has 3 sitting commissioners, and they were all appointed by this President. By the way... pull down your dress. Your dumb faux news comment shows your ignorance about me, and makes your arrogant stupidity bare for the world to see.

If they were just an extension of the Oval Office, then he could just issue an Executive Order. They aren't though and he can't and while some appointees will toe a line, not all will and certainly not all the time. Your continued insistence that he can simply issue an Executive Order displays your general ignorance.

http://www.fcc.gov/document/commissioner-rosenworcel-executive-order-fac...

Here's just one example, you arrogant little prick. Yes, he CAN issue an Executive Order for the FCC. No, they are NOT REQUIRED to do what the President wants, but orders are issued, and if he holds the majority (he appointed all 3 sitting commissioners), he usually gets what he wants. All I was trying to say is that he has the ability to make a stand on the issue, and will likely get what he wants. But, because I didn't speak in glowing terms of our fearless leader, you got all butt-hurt and had to be a jerk. You need to lighten up, and stop drinking the koolaid.

"All I was trying to say is that he has the ability to make a stand on the issue, and will likely get what he wants."
No, actually, what you said was:
"If the FCC hasn't had the initiative to enforce their own regulations... that is the fault of the President. He needs to have the stones to stand by his own policies, and see them through to implementation."
Except you (finally) just acknowledged that the FCC doesn't have to do what the President says. Just because they're his appointees doesn't mean they'll do what he asks or tells them to. It's NOT the President's fault if the FCC doesn't do what he requests, they are under no obligation to do so.
You think things actually work one way, when they do not. The president could issue an Executive Order telling the Congress to vote for a complete federally-run medical system, but just like the FCC, they can completely ignore it. You're the one getting all 'butt hurt' from the way you're popping off, you might want to grab some of that lube mentioned above, or maybe see a proctologist, you might have a stick up your butt.

why don't you stop leaving comments everywhere and get a life or something. you're really annoying. and not funny at all

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Please tell me how you carrier unlock a CDMA device? Unless you import in the ESN from the original carrier but even then if the LTE bands are different it won't matter.

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4g is nolonger CDMA, its GSM based. just different bands. It is possible that if this passes the phone manufacturers will build one phone, with all 3 or 4 LTE/4g bands.

True but, at least of right now the LTE bands only take care of Data, CDMA is still required for voice. Until we have VoLTE this is not entirety possible. My US Cellular Note 2, for example, uses LTE for 4g data bit CDMA for 3G and voice. You cannot unlock this via sim card.

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The move won't impact many CDMA or LTE device owners. But it's a good move for GSM device owners. Unfortunately, there really aren't any options for CDMA device owners, since unlocking won't benefit them much. But ya still gotta support the movement for GSM device owners.

you can vote with your feet and your wallet. i personally would love to see Verizon brought to their knees.

It won't impact Verizon LTE device owners because recent devices with a SIM slot (which is apparently needed for LTE) are already sold unlocked. It might impact Sprint device owners, though. I don't know the network bands their Android devices pack, but their BlackBerry Q10 has AT&T's HSPA+ band (and T-Mobile's too, in those re-farmed areas.) And unlike Verizon, I don't think Sprint sells their LTE devices SIM unlocked.

Why won't it affect LTE devices?

LTE is GSM on steroids, and the phones sold into the LTE markets have pentaband software programmable radios.

My thought is to just sell phones unlocked from the get go but I can see where different technologies would cut down your choices

Keep Calm & Android On

KCCO

It's exactly like that in most Asian countries. Over there, there is no relation between phones and carriers.
You buy a phone (unlocked). Get a SIM from whatever carrier you want and pop it in.

In some places in Europe as well.

There are a few countries that carriers are forbidden to sell phones at all.

Oddly enough, many small finance companies sprang up to do installment sales to people who couldn't afford to buy them outright.

Folks, this isn't Obama. It's his underlings who know something about the industry and the way it should be. The President himself still has a 2008 Blackberry, for crying out loud.

Maybe Verizon, being the good old' evil Verizon, somehow got him into a 6-year contract...?

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His BlackBerry Bold 9900 from five years ago is still more secure than Androids and iPhones. Not just Obama's BlackBerry, but Blackberrys in general.

It's a part of the Executive branch. And does it matter who proposes it if it's good news for the consumer?

Obviously Mr. Obama doesn't have anything more important to do... While I applaud the sentiment, the government has much more important things to do.

I think you meant "how long do you think it takes to tell someone who will tell an intern to write a memo?"

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

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Suck it AT&T they refused to unlock a smartphone I bought from someone, who had finished the contract, because they said it wasn't technically my phone from the start, they said I had to get the person I bought it from to call AT&T and unlock it for me and I never even ran into that person again.

I just call AT&T and they unlock it for me. Done it on last 3 phones. The President didn't even need to head to the Situation Room.

Here is my take on this... And sorry if I offended anyone. This is actually a pretty big deal. For a presidential administration to go up against big corporate business is really rare. It doesn't matter who the president is or what party they belong to, Washington is a revolving door for cabinet members to take positions as CEOs at huge corporations after they leave their public office that is why I find this hard to believe. No matter what the rational or motive behind this I'm glad it's happening. Now I hope they tackle more important issues next. But I won't go into that

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"For a presidential administration to go up against big corporate business is really rare."

Which is why they don't often go up against them. As much as I hate to say this, if the carriers are really serious about this, I don't see this happening. Either the legislative bill will die in the Congress (hellooo lobbying $,) or this FCC action will get challenged in courts (hellooo high priced lawyer $)

The good news is that a bill isn't needed. It the FCC just has to make it happen. Then the inevitable lawsuit from the carriers happens... But Hope springs internal

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No offense, but you really haven't been paying attention these last 5 years. The Obama administration has done more during his tenure to "go up against big corporate business," than all of his predecessors combined. I do agree with this move, although this really won't have that much effect until CDMA technology is retired.

It should be done automatically OTA upon completion of the contract, or upon purchase if the full price is paid, right there in the store.

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Unnecessary. If the customer switches networks, then they will be responsible for the ETF and any unpaid balance on the phone.

Yay Obamas doing something besides ruining the country or playing golf!

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Exactly. People with Obama Derangement Syndrome seem to lurk in every comment section on every subject ready to spread their ignorance. These are the same types of folks that think making a lame pun with his name pauses for a rational critique.

You mean like saying "we should make a new state and send all of the liberals there. We could call it, Alobama"?

I think that if this were passed as law, the incentive for carriers to compete with each other would diminish. I think product innovation would subsequently suffer and we may see a decline in the awesomeness of the devices we enjoy today. This would be disappointing.

Yet Another Reason..
We should find a way to elect this group yet a 3RD TERM..
So we can keep fixing the MESS bush made.,
Housing..Healthcare.. 401's a War that SHOULD HAVE NEVER HAPPENED.. etc..
What a MESS bush made of this country..
bush.. The WORST Presidential Rating ever recorded
Thank Gawd for the Obama Admin..

Many more things than either McCain or Romney, which is the most important consideration. I have some criticism for specific policies but man consider the alternative.

One other thing to consider is that most of the FCC commissioners will be gone within six months so they have nothing to lose here. I am thinking this might just go through

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Everyone thinks this is a great idea. Well, say goodbye to reasonably priced phones! Every smartphone will cost $600+ since the carrier won't be able to "charge" for unlocking and there will be no guarantee the carrier will have you as a customer long enough to recoup their subsidy. They cannot "eat" that lost subsidy and stay in business. Yet more proof the Obama administration doesn't understand economics... IDIOTS!

First off, most high end smartphones already cost around or above $600 when purchased in full. The Nexus is an exception and not the rule. Secondly, and more importantly, why do you think carriers charge an Early Termination Fee? To recoup the lost subsidy. While you may not agree with the Obama Administration, at least try to think before going on a rant.

I just hoped this thread would be on topic. Sadly, I also figured that all the Obama haters would take an opportunity to voice opinions simply because his name was in the thread title.

Uocked phones are useless when your carrier (verizon and sprint especially) do not easily allow non carrier branded phones on their network. Plus with all the bands/frequencies used the average consumer will try to use the wrong device on the wrong network.

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While we're at it, why not allow me to use my Directv box to get Comcast or Fios. Most people get free or heavily discounted phones anyway. How many people actually pay full price for a phone? If you can't wait to upgrade then pay extra. Phones are practically free if you wait 2 months after they come out.

Seriously, another useless idea from an useless President.

^^Another useless comment from an uninformed idiot.

No phone is free.You pay for the cost of the phone through the coat of the plan. This is why bring your own phone plans like StraightTalk can offer unlimited everything for $45, because you're not paying for the phone as well. The $200 you give VZW/ATT/Sprint for an HTC One isn't buying a phone, that's a down payment on the phone.

It's not your phone until you've paid for it 100%. I have no problem with a carrier locking a phone that they still have an interest in. Once you've paid for it though, it's yours, and it should be illegal for a carrier to hold it hostage.

Oh look at you, so CLEVER! You even used polysyllabic words! How cute...
Seriously, did you come here JUST to troll the president on a tech website? Because that's pretty pathetic.

I know phones are expensive but at this point I would rather just move to the model used in other countries. We buy the phone, then we own it, the we get coverage from a carrier that fits our needs. The carriers are not hawking phones they are offering coverage.

Also there is enough political grid-lock and animosity in Washington right now so why must it flow into this forum? In my opinion Bush has done things some like, and things some don't. Obama has done things some like and things some don't. Heck All the presidents have, so let just leave it at that and hope this unlocking rule ends up helping us consumers in the end.

No joke. Half the animosity towards Obama (and Bush) is simply political rivalism. It's like hating the Yankees even if they do something good, except that what politicians do actually matters. As an example, if you poll people about specific elements of Obamacare (without mentioning the term Obamacare), they're largely in favor of it. Poll them about Obamacare by name and attitudes shift drastically because of political mudslinging. It's ridiculous.

Honestly, I do like the idea of being able to unlock my phone at any time for free, and because of that I'll overlook the government intervention. However, this gesture is kind of too little too late. If you're on Verizon or Sprint (or another CDMA-based carrier) there really is no concept of "unlocking". You can "flash" a CDMA phone to work on a different carrier, but that's a risky process and there's no guarantee it will even work. If you're on T-Mobile they already unlock your phone for free as long as you don't owe them money and have been a customer for a few months. I don't think that's too much to ask. I have no idea what AT&T's policy is, but if you're dumb enough to use them as a carrier you deserve to be jerked around.

If this move makes any kind of traction we'll probably be more than halfway there without any government intervention.

I think all the phone should come already unlocked from manufacture. Is it not true that carriers can block your IMEI whenever they find a excuse to do it? so what for they need to keep network locking you phone?