Wireless Carriers Agree to Unlocking Rules

The US operators have caved to FCC pressure and will notify their customers when they are eligible to unlock their devices and do so within two days of being asked.

Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms

December 12, 2013

1 Min Read
Wireless Carriers Agree to Unlocking Rules

The US wireless carriers have ceded to the threats of new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, announcing Thursday they've agreed to adopt a voluntary framework for how their customers can unlock their phones for use on other networks.

A month ago, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Wheeler warned the CTIA that the carriers must move faster to adopt an amendment to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) that went into effect in January making it illegal to jailbreak cellphones without the wireless operator's permission -- or else face regulation. (See FCC: Unlock or We Regulate.)

On Thursday, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), T-Mobile US Inc. , Verizon Wireless , and U.S. Cellular Corp. (NYSE: USM) all signed a voluntary agreement, which requires them to notify consumers when they become eligible for unlocking at the end of their contract, and to unlock their devices or ask the manufacturer to do so within two days of receiving a consumer's request.

These are the provisions that Wheeler called for, but the carriers did it ahead of being forced to by regulation. The move will likely benefit T-Mobile the most as it's aggressively targeting AT&T's customers to switch to its compatible network. But, according to Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, it could have more far-reaching affects as carrier handset policies change.

"As more carriers offer preferential rates for customers bringing their own devices, unlocking will become a more significant issue," he writes in a research note. "This may lead to a rise in churn rates, which in turn will force carriers to respond more aggressively to competitive threats."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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