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FCC FTW: wireless telcos agree to more consumer-friendly phone unlocking policies

Michael Gorman, @Numeson
December 12, 2013
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About a month ago, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler gave the U.S. wireless industry an ultimatum: choose to get on board with unlocking people's phones or face regulatory action forcing it to do so. Today, the CTIA -- the wireless industry trade association -- and Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular have acceded to Wheeler's demands by recommending that his policies be incorporated into the CTIA Consumer Code for Wireless Service. According to a letter sent to by the CTIA to the FCC, this means that the telcos mentioned above "will move quickly to implement these principles" in total within a year. In case you forgot, this means that within 12 months those companies will:

  • provide a clear, concise and readily accessible policy on unlocking
  • unlock mobile devices for legitimate owners of those devices once their service contract has been fulfilled
  • notify customers when their devices are eligible to be unlocked and/or automatically unlock those devices for free (but they can charge a reasonable if you aren't a current customer)
  • unlock devices or provide an explanation of a denial of any unlock requests within two days
  • unlock devices for military service men and women upon deployment

For its part, the FCC was gracious in victory, with Chairman Wheeler stating during an open Commission meeting today that he was happy that a cooperative agreement was reached in a speedy manner and that "this is the way things should work." Fellow commissioner Ajit Pai chimed in as well, stating that he was glad that the "specter of jail time for those who unlock their phones" was now removed, but that the policy change isn't enough. Pai went on to call on Congress to fix the flaws with US Copyright law that are the underlying root of the problem, and he hopes that this shift in CTIA policy will "help expedite the legislative process." Time will tell if our governmental's legislative arm heeds the executive's advice -- don't hold your breath.

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