FCC chairman in a letter to CTIA: Let customers unlock phones, or we’ll start regulating

President Obama Expected To Nominate Rep. Mel Watt For Director Of The Federal Housing Finance Agency

Yesterday evening an interesting story broke online regarding the FCC’s new chairman, Tom Wheeler. In an open letter to CTIA (a U.S. operator association) he stated that current plans by the organization regarding unlocking handsets are “a hollow shell” unless a further, key point is added to them. And, if CTIA doesn’t instigate more consumer friendly plans, it will step in to regulate itself:

“Enough time has passed, and it is now time for the industry to act voluntarily or for the FCC to regulate. Let’s set a goal of including the full unlocking rights policy in the CTIA Consumer Code before the December holiday season.”

Part of Wheeler’s “suggestions” for policies regarding handset unlocking includes the requirement for the carrier to notify its consumers when they’re eligible to unlock their devices, as well as ensuring that customers can unlock their phones as soon as they have fulfilled the obligations set forth in their contracts.

CTIA – of course – has objections.

“While CTIA supports giving consumers a robust set of options, it is important for consumers to note that an unlocked phone doesn’t necessarily mean an interoperable phone, given the technological and engineering realities of wireless networks.”

With this new chairman in charge of the FCC, it certainly seems things are moving in the right direction. Stay tuned for more on this. Wheeler is eager to get these new carrier unlocking policies going by the end of this year.

Via: AllThingsD

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  • BlackJu

    yep, this is overdue. The traditional 2-year contract carriers hold too much power over consumers. I’ve only needed to unlock a phone once, and T-Mobile was very helpful. Just pay it off, call in, and the code is sent to you.

    • Rob

      Hell you don’t even have to be paid off. We called a month ago to get an unlock code for an S4 that’s on EIP for use overseas and they emailed us the code three days later. The call took all of 5 minutes.

      • Sean Walsh

        @ Rob, They did the same for me. & I had only got the phone 3 months before I asked for the code.

        • guest tmo.emp

          If it’s done thru EIP, u just need to have fulfilled 2 payments of the EIP after the initial downpayment. so around 2 or 3 months. If it’s paid full up front, customers only need to wait 40 days

        • Sean Walsh

          I’ve been with T-mo for almost 10 years, so I am sure they know I’m not going anywhere. T-mo always has taken care of me.

  • 21stNow

    Go Wheeler! I didn’t know that the government remembered how to fight for consumers anymore.

    • moises1204

      he must not be a republican!

      • jp123

        Consumerism / capitalism and free markets are a republican concept. I think you are confused.

        • moises1204

          i was more referring to serving to the people! and looking out for their well being.

        • Trevnerdio

          Which Obamacare is not doing, but I digress…let’s keep it phone-y…
          Okay, that was bad.

      • ceegii63

        well not all republicans are dicks, most of the dicks are rightwing tea party nutballs

  • ccnet005

    Hopefully he’ll add tethering to this edict

    • Whiskers

      I second that !

      • moises1204

        triple that!

  • Whiskers

    AT&T and Verizon is going to hate this because once people start learning they can unlock their phones without being bent over they will be leaving for T-Mobile at half the monthly cost their provider is charging them.

    • macman37

      AT&T will definitely crying about the new FCC Chairman’s proposals for unlocking phones due to this making any carrier exclusive on any phone moot. Verizon, on the other hand does not have much too worry about since all of their 4G LTE phones are GSM unlocked out of the box. With the current models of both the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C, Verizon’s subscribers are able to remove their Roaming SIM card and replace it with a SIM from AT&T, T-Mobile, and the rest of the carriers worldwide that use the LTE Bands of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 13, 17, 19, 20 & 25 that are already included. The only carrier that they can not unlock to is Sprint, as well as probably carriers like Cricket and Virgin Mobile that share Sprint’s frequencies.

      • Spanky

        Wheeler demands that customers are granted full unlocking rights once they have fulfilled the terms of their contract. This is already in effect across all carriers. I highly doubt that AT&T cares about a customer wanting to unlock a two year old carrier-exclusive phone.

        • Whiskers

          Really , i know plenty of people who are still on AT&T with iphones older than two years old and still locked have no clue as to how to unlock them.
          They think they have to get a new phone just to switch carriers., once i show them how much they been getting bent over on their monthly bill just for limited data use they are shocked.
          Then they look at me dumb founded when i show them how easy it is to unlock their phones and be able to use the iphone on T-Mobile with better data speeds and a lower monthly bill.

          Not everyone out there are a bunch of tech geeks , most just use the phones normally. and have other important things to worry about.

        • Sean Walsh

          I bought an AT&T phone full price, & AT&T refused to unlock it. Why???? I own the phone, I dont want or have their service. Why not unlock it? I had to pay $15.00 as some small phone store to get it unlocked

    • guest

      Half the monthly cost for half the coverage.

      • Whiskers

        Depends on YOUR area coverage !

    • Spanky

      People have been unlocking phones as long as there have been locked phones. This wont have any significant effect, if any effect at all, on T-Mobile’s customer acquisition.

      • Whiskers

        True , but most of them are phone geeks and not normal everyday users.
        The average person does’nt sit around geeking out on their phone all day.

    • kalel33

      Unless T-mobile charges $50 a month for unlimited talk, text, and 2GB of data, with a subsidized phone, then it’s not half. It’s 20% less than Verizon if you figure in $20 a month in EIP payments on a good phone.

  • guest

    Yeah, T-Mobile jerked me around because I made the mistake of porting the number before submitting the unlock request on a prepaid phone. Screw you T-Mobile, I paid $5 to an online service and got the phone unlocked.

  • http://www.uragon.com/ Bogart

    Yeaaaahhhh! Way to go Mr. Wheeler. I just hope you stick with before you get caught with politics.

  • ccnet005

    Has anyone tried the fcc speed test app?
    It was released last week, I’m not sure if this is a new release or just an update

    • kevev

      I think for Android app it is an initial release. I have it installed and I am seeing good speeds on my Sony Xperia Z here in San Antonio.

      6MB down 1.5MB up

      15MB down 8MB up

      • Trevnerdio

        Caps are important ;) Mbps, because MB/s would be insane!

    • $15454173

      If the gov wants my speed they can ask the NSA ;)

  • macman37

    Poor AT&T!! This means that you can no longer take advantage of foreign customers who would like to go and visit their ethnic homeland and other countries whose carriers that have GSM networks. It looks like AT&T better start changing their strategy of a “Forced” retention of subscribers to a strategy where their subscribers can’t unlock their phones to another domestic carrier. Other than this, way to go Wheeler!!

    • Spanky

      I am pretty sure T-Mobile employs a similar unlocking policy.

      • Sean Walsh

        @Spanky, I called T-mobile to get my phone unlocked, & they sent me the code. I told them I was going to Indonesia, & they told me I would have the unlock code in 14 days. I got it in 10. They were very kind & seemed not to mind that I needed my device unlocked so I could use it over seas.

        • IamTwone

          Yea T-mobile been good after like 40 days of having my s4 I asked to get my phone unlocked they told me i have to wait til it was paid in full but they processed the unlock and i got in about 2 weeks. They trust that there customers not going to leave if they get there phone unlocked.

      • GinaDee

        AT&T will unlock any phone pretty easily as long as the device has been active for a certain period of time just like T-Mobile.

        The exception is the iPhone. AT&T requires the customer to fulfill the entire 2 year agreement which kind’a sucks for those who change carriers often or like to use foreign SIM’s.

        • Sean Walsh

          @GinaDee, AT&T will not unlock a phone that is bought at full price & without a contract. I bought a phone, & they wouldnt unlock it. I had to pay someone to unlock it. I did the samething with T-mobile, & they unlocked it. no questions asked.

        • 21stNow

          That’s only the case for “AT&T exclusive” devices. I got my Galaxy S4 unlocked from AT&T right after I bought it.

        • deng

          That must have been some time ago. Within the lasdt year TMO has virtually eliminated unlocking while ATT has relaxed a bit.

    • GinaDee

      I wouldn’t get too excited. Carrier’s can always force the customer to complete his/her contract before getting the unlocked code.

      He is just looking for carrier’s to provide transparency i.e.: Notify the customers of their unlock date and ensure the device gets unlocked at the end of the contract.

  • Chris

    Excellent news as a METRO PCS customer, screw Verizon and AT&T are going to hate this… Congrats this will help bring more customers to T-MOBILE !!!

    • macman37

      Only AT&T will hate this; all of Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphones and tablets are GSM unlocked out of the box.

      • GinaDee

        Not exactly true. Some are but not all are.

        Some only have the international bands unlocked while others have domestic GSM bands unlocked.

        • Rod

          Per FCC regulations as a condition of their purchase of the 700Mhz spectrum all Verizon LTE phones have to be SIM unlocked and they have to allow any compatible device to access and use their network.

      • kalel33

        Verizon phones are unlocked for international carriers but are locked for domestic carriers.

  • Alex Zapata

    Works best with GSM devices, CDMA not as much :-/

    • Rod

      Given the facts that most new CDMA phones include GSM radios, LTE is based on GSM (Verizon even uses the same LTE bands as ATT and T-Mobile), and that CDMA is an aging standard that American carriers are moving away from, it matters just as much for CDMA users.

      • kalel33

        LTE is based off of GSM but Verizon and Sprint only use CDMA for their voice, 3G, and 1x services. They haven’t moved away from CDMA, just added LTE onto the options.

        • Rod

          Verizon and Sprint use CDMA as their core network tech. The problem however is that CDMA like 2G GSM is not spectrum efficient. Both carriers want to turn off CDMA and refarm that spectrum for more LTE, just as Tmo/ATT are doing with their GSM networks. Verizon has LTE on ~95% of their network, they only keep CDMA around because they don’t have VoLTE yet. As soon as they start rolling out VoLTE they’ll start selling LTE only phones and shutting down legacy CDMA in late 2014/early 2015.
          Sprint, while further behind, is attempting to do the same thing with thier Sprint Spark plan.

    • Adrayven

      Depends.. Apple is close to having universal carrier phones. They already have a universal tablets with the Air or Mini.. Only thing stopping a CDMA iPad from going on Verizon is Verizon.. they block devices that were not registered with their network at the OEM level. Even if it is compatible.

      You can currently take a CDMA Verizon device over to Sprint.. and most CDMA devices are fully GSM compatible.. Carriers just love the walled garden to make it inconvenient.

      • kalel33

        There hasn’t been a CDMA only Ipad since the Ipad 2. You are correct, in that they do block devices by their IMEI number.

      • Rod

        Neither Sprint or Verizon will activate a CDMA only phone from the other carrier.

  • Jason Crumbley

    If it doesn’t mean an interoperable phone, then why do the carriers care so much?

    • Rod

      Because the rhetoric isn’t true. Most if not all modern cell phones work on more than one wireless network. Like for example, the Verizon/Sprint iPhone 5s, is fully compatible with every American wireless network.

      • Jason Crumbley

        I guess my sarcasm didn’t come across as well as I thought it did. haha

  • JP

    TMobile are real jerks when it comes to unlocking phones. I have had issues getting them to unlock phones that were not even under contract. I will NEVER buy a phone direct from them again.
    They refuse to unlock phones that aren not even under contract. I upgraded to a nexus and when I asked to unlock my previous phone they came back with some nonsense of having to use the old phone for at least 40days again. WTH?
    If a phone is not under contract it must be unlocked immediately.
    I think there were previous class action lawsuits for unlocking phones.

    • zac


      Totally true. They used to have a decent policy:

      •Account Must be 60 Days Old

      •Four Unlocks Per Year

      •Device usage must be shown on account (One day, not 40)

      •Accumulative of 50.00 in refills since account opened or a refill in the past 30 days. (Prepaid Only)

      BUT…. when they made the Simple Choice changes earlier this year the policy has been getting worse and worse. There’s a petition out there to get them to change it back to this, and hopefully they do.

  • Ambermoran

    I’ve had both att and tmobile and I’m currently with tmobile and I have to say that tmobile gives you a harder time to unlock a phone than att does. I unlocked 6 phones with att and 2 with tmobile and although I’ve been with them for 1 year now they refuse to unlock my iPhone 5s till December 18.