U.S. carriers must unlock cellphones, starting today

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Ericsson wants to stop Apple selling iPhones in the United States. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Some U.S. carriers have historically been more lenient about unlocking phones than others, but starting today they are all mandated to provide unlocking once a customer’s contract is up.

Legislation put in place by the Federal Communications Commission back in 2013 takes full effect today, and carriers must comply with new policies on unlocking.

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.

Phones on prepaid plans will be eligible for unlocking “no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time, payment or usage requirements.”

Customers must also be notified when their phones are eligible for unlocking, and carriers must respond to unlock requests within two business days (a process that could have taken weeks previously, depending on the carrier). Deployed military personnel are eligible to have their phones unlocked regardless of their contractual standing.

AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Bluegrass Cellular, Cellcom, and U.S. Cellular are all on board. There are other mandates in the new policy that are beneficial to consumers, like a mandatory 14-day trial for postpaid plans, maps showing specific coverage a carrier offers in a certain area, and more.

Source: CTIA Wireless Association