The deadline for carriers to comply with the CTIA’s consumer code regarding cellphone unlocking has arrived.
In December 2013, thanks to pressure from the FCC, 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.
Starting today, in accordance with that agreement, the carriers must unlock devices for both postpaid and prepaid customers.
As agreed, carriers will unlock postpaid customer devices after the fulfillment of the applicable postpaid service contract, device financing plan, or payment of applicable early termination fee. Carriers will unlock prepaid mobile wireless devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time, payment or usage requirements.
In addition, clear device unlocking instructions are to be posted on the website of each carrier and the unlock should take place within two days.
Notably, military members qualify for an unlock after providing proof of deployment, regardless of their contract status.
MOBILE WIRELESS DEVICE UNLOCKING
Each wireless provider will abide by the following standards regarding the ability of customers, former customers, and individual owners of eligible devices to unlock phones and tablets, (“mobile wireless devices”) that are locked by or at the direction of the carrier. It should be noted that carriers typically use different frequencies and air interface technologies to provide wireless network access. Accordingly, a device that works on one carrier’s network may not be technologically compatible with another carrier’s network. “Unlocking” a device refers only to disabling software that would prevent a consumer from attempting to activate a device designed for one carrier’s network on another carrier’s network, even if that network is technologically compatible. In other words, “unlocking” a device will not necessarily make a device interoperable with other networks-a device designed for one network is not made technologically compatible with another network merely by “unlocking” it. Additionally, unlocking a device may enable some functionality of the device but not all (e.g., an unlocked device may support voice services but not data services when activated on a different network).
Each wireless provider agrees to abide by the following six principles:
(1) Disclosure. Each carrier will post on its website its clear, concise, and readily accessible policy on postpaid and prepaid mobile wireless device unlocking;
(2) Postpaid Unlocking Policy. Carriers upon request, will unlock mobile wireless devices or provide the necessary information to unlock their devices for their customers and former customers in good standing and individual owners of eligible devices after the fulfillment of the applicable postpaid service contract, device financing plan, or payment of applicable early termination fee.
(3) Prepaid Unlocking Policy. Carriers, upon request, will unlock prepaid mobile wireless devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time, payment or usage requirements.
(4) Notice. Carriers that lock devices will clearly notify customers that their devices are eligible for unlocking at the time when their devices are eligible for unlocking or automatically unlock devices remotely when devices are eligible for unlocking, without additional fee. Carriers reserve the right to charge non-customers/non-former-customers with a reasonable fee for unlocking requests. Notice to prepaid customers may occur at point of sale, at the time of eligibility, or through a clear and concise statement of policy on the carrier’s website.
(5) Response Time. Within two business days after receiving a request, carriers will unlock eligible mobile wireless devices or initiate a request to the OEM to unlock the eligible device, or provide an explanation of why the device does not qualify for unlocking, or why the carrier reasonably needs additional time to process the request.
(6) Deployed Personnel Unlocking Policy. Carriers will unlock mobile wireless devices for deployed military personnel who are customers in good standing upon provision of deployment papers.
Carriers reserve the right to decline an unlock request if they have a reasonable basis to believe the request is fraudulent or the device is stolen. Carriers further agree to implement three of the standards articulated above within 3 months from February 11, 2014. Carriers further commit to implement the remainder of the principles within 12 months from February 11, 2014.