Feeds

US mobile telcos: All right, ALL RIGHT, FCC! We'll redo phone unlock rules

Go ahead, take your mobe to another carrier ... as long as you're paid up

Build a business case: developing custom apps

The five largest US wireless carriers say they are all onboard with new policies designed to make it easier for customers to use their mobile devices on the network of their choice.

"We are pleased to announce AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless agreed to adopt a voluntary set of six principles for unlocking of consumers' mobile phones and tablets," Steve Largent, president and CEO of wireless industry lobbying group CTIA, said in a statement.

Typically, mobile phones sold in the US come locked to a specific carrier's voice and data networks, so that even phones with compatible hardware can't be activated on a competing carrier's airwaves.

Some carriers have been willing to unlock customers' equipment upon request – usually only after they have recouped any subsidy they may have paid for the hardware – but there has been no industry-wide policy on the practice.

On Thursday, CTIA published the text of a voluntary commitment that it says all five of the top US mobile operators have agreed to.

Under the new CTIA policy, all five carriers say they will unlock customers' devices when asked, provided the customer's service contract or device payment plan has been paid in full or an early termination fee has been paid.

For prepaid plans, the carriers say they will agree to unlock customers' phones "no later than one year after initial activation" – which presumably means they won't unlock them one day earlier than a year after initial activation, either.

The one exception to these rules is for customers enlisted in the US military. Any military personnel who are deployed overseas can have their phones unlocked right away, regardless of how long they have been a subscriber to the carrier's network.

The carriers further promise to notify customers when they are eligible to have their phones unlocked and to respond to unlocking requests within 48 hours.

Although CTIA characterizes compliance with the new rules as entirely voluntary, however, that's not exactly the case. The move comes not long after Tom Wheeler, the new chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), sent a strongly-worded letter to CTIA telling it to get its act together on the subject of phone unlocking.

In it, he demanded that the organization produce a policy containing five elements, the specifics of which not coincidentally matched the bullet points of the new CTIA policy almost exactly.

But even though Wheeler got just about everything he wanted from the carriers, not every FCC regulator is satisfied with the new rules. Commissioner Ajit Pai, in particular, said in a statement published on Thursday that CTIA's unlocking policy doesn't go nearly far enough:

It does not empower consumers to unlock phones themselves, but instead keeps carriers in control of the process. If a consumer forgets to unlock his cellphone before recycling it, carriers can still charge that new, legal owner an unlocking fee. If a consumer needs to travel abroad for business or to visit his family, he cannot get low rates from a foreign provider without his domestic carrier's say-so. And if a low-income consumer thinks his prepaid plan doesn't have a contract – well, apparently his carrier can make him wait a year before unlocking the phone.

Most of the other commissioners praised CTIA's announcement, however, with Chairman Wheeler saying he was "delighted" with the agreement and that it represents "an important expression of the compact between industry and the public."

According to CTIA's announcement, the five carriers that have already approved the new policy will implement three of its principles within the next three months and the remainder within the next 12 months. Whether other US mobile operators follow suit remains to be seen. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
Canadian ISP Shaw falls over with 'routing' sickness
How sure are you of cloud computing now?
Don't call it throttling: Ericsson 'priority' tech gives users their own slice of spectrum
Actually it's a nifty trick - at least you'll pay for what you get
Three floats Jolla in Hong Kong: Says Sailfish is '3rd option'
Network throws hat into ring with Linux-powered handsets
Fifteen zero days found in hacker router comp romp
Four routers rooted in SOHOpelessly Broken challenge
New Sprint CEO says he will lower axe on staff – but prices come first
'Very disruptive' new rates to be revealed next week
US TV stations bowl sueball directly at FCC's spectrum mega-sale
Broadcasters upset about coverage and cost as they shift up and down the dials
Trans-Pacific: Google spaffs cash on FAST undersea packet-flinging
One of 6 backers for new 60 Tbps cable to hook US to Japan
Tech city types developing 'Google Glass for the blind' app
An app and service where other people 'see' for you
UK mobile coverage is BETTER than EVER, networks tell Ofcom
Regulator swallows this line and parrots it back out at us. What are they playing at?
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.