FCC pressures carriers to let users unlock their mobile devices

Tom Wheeler wants you to unlock your phone!

It looks like Americans are in for a treat this holiday season, courtesy of the FCC. The regulatory body says it wants to see carriers start offering consumers a legitimate and easy way to unlock their phones once their contracts are up, and it wants this plan in place by the end of the year.

After a number of important governmental institutions, including the White House, have come out in favour of the public’s right to unlock their mobile devices, FCC’s Chairman Tom Wheeler has sent a rather strongly worded letter to the CTIA. In it he tells the Wireless Association that whether by their own voluntary adoption or by the FCC’s regulatory actions such a policy will be in place by the end of this year.

According to this same letter the policy that Wheeler wants to implement has five major points that the carrier will need to respect. They will need to:

  • 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
  • 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

Source: FCC via: Engadget | Image via adweek

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I think it's dumb to lock them while on contract. All the major carriers provide unlocked phones (or free to unlock in the case of Vodafone). At the end of the day, you still have to pay the contract, why not be able to use it as you please.

How about doing it like in Europe (or atleast Denmark)? The phone is unlocked when you buy it, no matter what contract you get.

It should be this way. The current US system is double dipping...

Carriers lock the device guaranteeing they get their subsidy back for the device (either from the buyer or whoever gets the phone next). They then hit the user with an ETF designed to allow them to recoup the device subsidy if the user leaves early.

One of those has to go...

The main issue is that in the US you cannot go to a Best Buy or any other electronic stores and buy an Unlocked, Unbranded device thanks to the carriers racket.

... And Verizon will still be exempt due to CDMA network because their phones only work on their network that they allow.

What if I buy a phone outright? That's by far the biggest problem with carriers. You pay for the device in full and they will not unlock it. For cheap devices like the Lumia 520, this can be a huge problem given it is the perfect phone to take overseas if you main phone is still under contract and they won't unlock that one.

What needs to happen is a ban on contracts and phone locking. If you want to buy a phone on credit, it needs to show up a separate line item on your bill until its paid off. If you switch to someone else, you can keep making just the debt payments to the first carrier. There's far too much game playing with these contracts.

That is true, but users should open up their devices as much as possible in spite of the carriers wishes that they remain completely locked down.

NeoandGeo said,
......

I use cellunlocker dot net.

they are much cheaper than the $50 Canadian carriers charge. If only our CRTC would force cell carriers to free once the device is owned outright.

Now if we can only get the FCC to mandate any 3rd party/carrier specific applications installed by the carrier, that the user can uninstall at anytime.

This won't happen as there wouldn't be a way to sensibly do it. The can't mandate that carriers stop bundling "essential" applications (like Sprint used to do for MMS support) and carriers could just label everything "essential".

The better solution would be to move devices away from carriers entirely, but that too would take a long time.

This is again where government needs to stay out of the way of the free market. It's very simple, carriers will just raise the price of purchasing a new phone to cover any losses. Example, my premium health insurance was $275 a month. Now that the government has decided to control this market, my same policy is now $875 a month. Governments need to leave the free markets alone!

You can't have a properly functioning market without government regulation. Capitalism is a race to monopoly status and that status is very detrimental to markets.

Take a read of The Wealth of Nations on a sunny afternoon and you'll get a better understanding of Capitalism.

Unless its not a free market, market is dominated by evils like at&t and others where you have to pay for a service which isn't good, they lock your phone and lock you on contract so you have no choice but to suffer. they don't bother improving their services and they just pile up more cash in their pockets and there is no other choices. They change the contract time whenever they want, they lock your phone. they don't let Wi-MAX projects to initiate anywhere because they know people will switch in a blink of an eye. I think its fair to ask them to be at least transparent about their acts

Uh, this is the free market for carriers, are you paying attention? They want to control who you can use your phone with by putting artifical locks.

Nice way to plug in your ACA issues.

Umm... What about unlocking phones, period? This whole locked phones system only aids the atrocious capitalistic mentality. The west is the only place where this system exists.

Locking the phones is not capitalist, but the opposite. US gov has allowed cable, telecom, and wireless providers to screw their customers for decades.

Perhaps not capitalistic, but definitely communist. For instance, if someone buys a phone and 8 months later a new phone comes out and the same person wants to buy the new phone. Well, he/she can't, since that person would be tied to that phone for the next x-number of years. That lack of freedom for the consumer is what I have a problem with.

still_rookie said,
Umm... What about unlocking phones, period? This whole locked phones system only aids the atrocious capitalistic mentality. The west is the only place where this system exists.

The west is the only place? Umm no, Baltic states also do that, Finland also has somekind of system like that I believe, at least thats what I was told. I actually don't care myself since I ain't going to switch carriers anyway so they can keep my phone locked.

still_rookie said,
Perhaps not capitalistic, but definitely communist. For instance, if someone buys a phone and 8 months later a new phone comes out and the same person wants to buy the new phone. Well, he/she can't, since that person would be tied to that phone for the next x-number of years. That lack of freedom for the consumer is what I have a problem with.

Actually locking the phone is a capitalist approach as the carrier is subsidizing the cost of the hardware in exchange for your agreement to pay for services for a set period of time. Once you factor in the costs of network maintenance/upgrades to handle the bandwidth used by customers, administrative costs, cost of the handset, etc, the carriers generally don't break even on new phone sales/upgrades for 12-16 months. The lock on the handsets that they sell, coupled with early termination fees, ensures that they do not take a loss on the new phone by either a) discouraging customers from switching networks because of the costs involved to the customer for doing so or b) recouping some/all of their investment via assessment of early termination fees.

As a consumer, you have a couple options
a)Buy a new phone/upgrade through the carrier at a rather attractive subsidized price. In this situation you, the consumer, have the responsibility to understand and adhere to the contractual obligations that you agree to when you go this route. Far too often in our world people don't read contracts that they are signing and understand the implications of signing them. Once you sign your name to a piece of paper, you have given your permission to be legally bound to the contents of that form. It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY ALONE to understand what you are signing. The US is a contract based legal system and courts have made it clear that not reading or understanding what you are signing is not an excuse for breaking a contract without penalty.

b) Buy a carrier unlocked phone at full retail price. At this point you have no contractual obligations with a carrier. You can get service from the carrier of your choice on a month-to-month basis and switch as often as you choose with no early termination fees.

The issue here is really a problem with society, not business/government. People generally have a very poor sense of responsibility and tend to believe that if they cry enough that government will come in and save them from the poor decisions that they made. Unfortunately, all too often, the government gives in and feeds into this idea that people shouldn't take responsibility for their own actions.

Incorrect.

Your in a contract to pay $x for x period. The contract is the legal tie in and the guarantee of payment to them. The handset is just a deal sweetener however if it get's lost, stolen, becomes faulty etc its amazingly "yours" and your problem to deal with funny that eh.

If the phone is legally yours and your property. They shouldn't be allowed to restrict the handset at all let along charge for the unlocking it.

Unplugged said,
Incorrect.

Your in a contract to pay $x for x period. The contract is the legal tie in and the guarantee of payment to them. The handset is just a deal sweetener however if it get's lost, stolen, becomes faulty etc its amazingly "yours" and your problem to deal with funny that eh.

If the phone is legally yours and your property. They shouldn't be allowed to restrict the handset at all let along charge for the unlocking it.

Then it is incredibly misleading considering Networks such as O2 tier their tariff's based on essentially how much you pay for the handset. If you want lower monthly payments, you pay larger up front fees for the handset. If you want the lowest monthly fee, you pay for the handset at full retail price.

This decision is largely US based.

02s behaviour is largely a spin based on how mobile buying behavior has always worked. It's always been the case that the more your monthly spend (and term) the more profit they make so the more they reward you by dangling more expensive handsets under your nose. A very small percentage of people use even half their allocated usage and Sim Only deals can be had for around half (or less) than their equivalent with handset brethren. Networks like a guaranteed income period however as it looks good on the balance sheet.

In the UK Sim locks were never really common until Dual Band phones kicked off. Vodafone (and Later Orange and One2One by default) started sim locking and stating that the Handsets were exclusive to their networks (Some like Orange even laughably gave them their own model numbers) they also claimed that certain functions may not work on other networks (Corporate BS) the real reason was that they didn't want you using competitors sims and more importantly Local Sims abroad so avoiding getting seriously and anally butt raped.

Ofcom made a similar move to this about a decade? ago that all phone providers MUST unlock their devices on demand providing the subsidy was met. On contract phones this is pretty much a given and most will unlock for a small admin fee at any point in the contract. On PAYG phones the subsidy is pretty minimal and you normally have to spend an arbatory amount of credit to be eligible.

Either way whether you paying for your handset whether its £0 or £250 it's still yours and you have still "paid" out for it over the life of the contract. UK or US sim locking is still wrong.

Unplugged said,
Incorrect

...

If the phone is legally yours and your property. They shouldn't be allowed to restrict the handset at all let along charge for the unlocking it.

In the same breath, looking the boot loader of mobile devices (such as the Surface) should also be illegal then.

Pretty much.

If I want to nuke my surface and write my own say Linux based OS on hardware I own that should be down to me. Just like if I brought a hammer or car I can do what I like to it and modify it as I see fit.