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FCC Boss Demands Carriers Speed Things Up on Cell Unlocking
by Karl Bode 07:20PM Thursday Nov 14 2013
In late January, unlocking your cellphone technically became illegal after the Librarian of Congress removed it from the DMCA exception list. It technically remains legal for you to jailbreak your phone, but you can't unlock it without carrier permission. The absurdity of that concept resulted in a White House website petition, in turn resulting in the White House (via the NTIA) nudging the FCC to create new Part 20 rules making unlocking legal once again.

Enough time has passed, and it is now time for the industry to act voluntarily or for the FCC to regulate.
-New FCC Boss Tom Wheeler
Now, as part of one of his first moves on the job, new FCC boss Tom Wheeler has sent a letter to the wireless industry (pdf) urging them to move more quickly to adopt voluntary guidelines requiring they offer more robust unlocking options for consumers.

Many carriers will allow users to unlock handsets so they can be used on other carriers, but frequently only after a user's contract term is completed. Users are also, of course, limited by the limitations of network design as they float between carriers. Wheeler stated the FCC has been working with the CTIA for eight months on updating their voluntary consumer code to allow for unlocking (though the FCC clearly finds demanding carriers sell unlocked phones a bridge too far).

Wheeler notes that the FCC and wireless industry are in agreement on four out of five of the code's provisions, which include:

Click for full size
• Carriers must make their unlocking policies clear and concise (many already do this; for an example see AT&T's unlocking rules.)

• Carriers must agree that the end of the contract or a paid ETF auto-allows unlocking (many already do this)

• When receiving unlocking requests, carriers must either grant the unlock request or provide their reason why not within two days. This can currently be a tricky proposition even with carriers that have a relatively decent unlocking policy.

• Carriers must unlock devices for military personnel upon deployment (some carriers, including AT&T and T-Mobile, are already doing this).

What the FCC and the wireless industry apparently can't agree upon is the FCC's request that wireless carriers automatically inform consumers when their device is available for unlocking, with no fee. That's not too surprising for those who've witnessed Verizon's recent device behavior, or Sprint's unwillingness to seriously embrace unlocking in any fashion.

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

Threatening regulations if carriers don't adhere to voluntary provisions is fairly standard operating procedure for regulators around the world. The problem with our FCC has traditionally been they either lack the courage to back up their threats with actual regulation when needed, or the voluntary conditions they ask for are already being adopted by industry with no meaningful penalty for not fully adhering to them anyway.

What you get in the latter instance is just a political show pony, trotted around the stage to mass industry self congratulation, but resulting in little meaningful reform.

Wheeler's certainly saying all the right things, but this is yet another instance where he's going to find his purported dedication to consumer issues very quickly tested.

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Rekrul

join:2007-04-21
Milford, CT

What they need to do...

What they need to do is pass a law stating that it is legal to modify electronic devices that you've bought. None of this "It has DRM so you can't tinker with it." crap.

In fact, the whole section of law devoted to enforcing DRM needs to go.

tshirt
Premium,MVM
join:2004-07-11
Snohomish, WA
kudos:5
Reviews:
·Comcast

Re: What they need to do...

Not so fast, It is possible to modify devices, usually via amplifiers, so that they may interfere or potentially damage other devices.
While being illegal won't stop those determined to do so, it does provide a legal basis for investigation, prosecution on the criminal side and compensation on the civil side.
rradina

join:2000-08-08
Chesterfield, MO

Re: What they need to do...

Any interference or unlicensed transmission on a licensed frequency is already a crime. Don't we already have a legal framework to investigate and prosecute "pirate" radio folks? How is modifying a cell phone fundamentally different? If it's not, why do we need more law?
Kearnstd
Space Elf
Premium
join:2002-01-22
Mullica Hill, NJ
kudos:1
said by tshirt:

Not so fast, It is possible to modify devices, usually via amplifiers, so that they may interfere or potentially damage other devices.
While being illegal won't stop those determined to do so, it does provide a legal basis for investigation, prosecution on the criminal side and compensation on the civil side.

true a better wording would be removing electronic devices from DMCA protection since most locking on them is done via the software. It should not be illegal to do non hardware alterations I think is a better thing to aim for since the software cannot push the radio outside its physical limitations, Though I have no clue what harm wifi on channel 13 would do.(third pary FW might ignore regional wifi channel models since I figure all chipsets can do all channels and the driver is what controls whats available.)
--
[65 Arcanist]Filan(High Elf) Zone: Broadband Reports
cramer
Premium
join:2007-04-10
Raleigh, NC
kudos:9
You don't own the phone until you've completed your contract, or paid an ETF, unless you paid full price (which is usually several hundred $) for the phone. This is the whole point of the unlocking rules... once you own the device, they have to unlock it. (sadly, many carriers still either won't, or make it very difficult.)

PhoneBoy
Google "No Agenda"

join:2002-01-02
Gig Harbor, WA

1 recommendation

If the FCC were serious about this...

they would simply ban the practice of selling locked devices in the first place. Also, operators would be required to allow users to use any device that meets the technical requirements for connecting to their network. Looking at you, Verizon and Sprint.

In other words, Carterfone. Which the FCC seems to conveniently forget they required the wireline companies to adhere to in the 70s.

fg8578

join:2009-04-26
Salem, OR

Re: If the FCC were serious about this...

Completely different situation and completely inapplicable.

Yes, Carterfone applied to wired devices. Because of the RJ-11 connector, such devices were interchangeable. Wireless phones are not. The air interfaces are different, they work on different frequencies, etc. Merely unlocking your VZ phone is no guarantee it will work on the AT&T network (for example).

In other words, Carterfone doesn't apply.

Rob
In Deo speramus.
Premium
join:2001-08-25
Kendall, FL
kudos:2

1 recommendation

If the carrier's won't move..

Then it's time to force all cell phone manufacturers to sell phones unlocked, and not allow for any phone to be locked. Period.
navyson

join:2011-07-15
Upper Marlboro, MD

Re: If the carrier's won't move..

said by Rob:

Then it's time to force all cell phone manufacturers to sell phones unlocked, and not allow for any phone to be locked. Period.

All Verizon 4G LTE phones come unlocked

inteller
Sociopaths always win.

join:2003-12-08
Tulsa, OK

Re: If the carrier's won't move..

the SIM side is unlocked, the ESN CDMA side is not.
--
"WHEN THE LAUGH TRACK STARTS THEN THE FUN STARTS!"
rradina

join:2000-08-08
Chesterfield, MO
I don't have a problem if in exchange for a subsidy, carriers want some kind of assurance that the customer will remain faithful to their obligation. However, at the end of that contract, the carrier should automatically unlock the phone and inform the customer. If a customer chooses to break their contract and pays the commensurate early termination fee, the carrier should also automatically unlock the device and inform the customer. If the customer stiffs the carrier for the ETF/other charges and forces them to sell that debt to the collection agency, the carrier is no longer obligated to unlock the phone or permit it to operate on their network. If the phone is subsequently acquired by a new owner, it should be at the discretion of the carrier as to how they would like to proceed. (They can forgive and forget, negotiate some kind of restoration fee from the new owner, confiscate it or refuse to do anything with it.)

Bottom line: It's reasonable for them to use it as assurance that new owners will fulfill their contract obligations but they should not be allowed to leverage it an anti-competitive fashion.

Final Word: Carriers should also be required to immediately unlock any phone in exchange for a full price sale.

Hagar

join:2004-10-31
Sunnyvale, CA
Reviews:
·T-Mobile US
·AT&T U-Verse

Re: If the carrier's won't move..

Good but not good enough. I have a contract but travel regularly aboard and I want to use a local SIM. I am paying my monthly bill it is unreasonable for me to wait 2 years to unlock my phone.

I say either ETF or a locked phone carrier can choose which one they want.
rradina

join:2000-08-08
Chesterfield, MO

Re: If the carrier's won't move..

AT&T will unlock your phone if you tell them you need to travel abroad.

I'm OK with eliminating locking codes but then the customer should foot the ETF fee up front like a renter's deposit. Then it can be refunded when the customer completes their contract or used to pay the last part of the contract.

ohreally

@uk.net

Re: If the carrier's won't move..

said by rradina:

I'm OK with eliminating locking codes but then the customer should foot the ETF fee up front like a renter's deposit. Then it can be refunded when the customer completes their contract or used to pay the last part of the contract.

This makes no sense. You will still be paying the agreed rate for the phone and service, regardless of if it is unlocked or being used elsewhere. The network operator isn't going to lose any money.

So why should you have to pay full price or wait for the end of the contract? Fortunately this is not something the networks force upon you in other countries - you can usually get a unlock code immediately or within a month of receiving it, or you just buy the phone in an unlocked state in the first place (using quality standards like GSM/UMTS/LTE works wonders here)
rradina

join:2000-08-08
Chesterfield, MO

Re: If the carrier's won't move..

I was looking for middle ground. If in exchange for a subsidy they want to use locking as an obligatory penalty for not fulfilling the contract, it's a plausible business practice. In lieu of that, asking for the ETF as a deposit has precedence (utilities and landlords).

Of course we aren't going to like it but many silly things are forced upon all of us because a fraction need repeated experience to learn the relationship between toilet hygiene and a sore anus.

All of this assumes the carrier is using locking for such purposes and not simply as an anti-competitive choke hold. If they don't care about guarantees against folks that walk around with an inflamed anus, then the FCC should regulate locking out of existence.

Hagar

join:2004-10-31
Sunnyvale, CA
rradina, yes AT&T will unlock but not if it is an iPhone.
Skippy25

join:2000-09-13
Hazelwood, MO
You can say every industry wants assurance for any and every product sold that the consumer fulfills their obligation so there is no difference here beyond that fact it is electronic and can be locked.

They have plenty of means to purpose or penalize people that do not fulfill their obligations beyond locks and that should be used.
rradina

join:2000-08-08
Chesterfield, MO

Re: If the carrier's won't move..

Well, yeah... I don't like locks either but IF they are using it for this purpose and automatically unlock it once the customer fulfills their obligation or pays an ETF, so what if technology has enabled something that's convenient for business, has real teeth and doesn't affect 99% of us who are honest consumers? However, if they are using it to simply be anti-competitive then lets get rid of them.

I'm trying to seek a middle ground on the assumption the carrier is using it to guarantee customer performance. If not, then it should be regulated out of existence.

If locking isn't a means of assurance but simply a competitive weapon, it should get the attention of the FTC and they should handle the matter. That's why I'm suggesting that locking be clearly defined as a customer performance tool with automatic unlocking rather than leave it muddy which too often leaves the customer with a brick if they want to use it on another carrier.

Packeteers
Premium
join:2005-06-18
Forest Hills, NY
kudos:1
Reviews:
·Time Warner Cable

unlocking is bullsyit that needs to stop NOW

I bought a SIM based GSM phone put an H20wireless microSIM in,
which works fine - only I keep getting AT&T shovelware on my phone.
I was never an AT&T customer
the unlock code entry screen errors out so I can't use a code from a paid unlocker.
(so even the unlock function is locked)
I don't dare risk rooting my phone since I can't find any evidence it will work out.
so I'm basically fracked - my battery goes in half the normal time
because AT&T keeps installing and updating bullshyt all over the place,
and since I don't have root access, no utility can help me block them.
Chubbysumo

join:2009-12-01
Superior, WI
Reviews:
·Charter

AT&Ts unlock policy is a load of crap

I bought a phone outright from them for use on an MVNO. I had no AT&T accounts, and never will again, so, when they trotted this little quote out on the initial deny(which took 5 days)

quote:
The person requesting the unlock must be one of the following:
a current AT&T customer
a former AT&T customer who can provide the phone number or account number for the account
I had to get it escalated and spend 60 minutes on the phone with 5 different people explaining that I bought a phone in full, and needed the unlock code to use it on the carrier of my choice. They seemed shocked and confused why someone would do that, and did not believe me, even tho I had the receipts to prove it. Took about an hour for the first phone, and then less than a week later, the second phone took only about 40 minutes. I will never buy a carrier locked phone again, for any carrier.
Cobra11M

join:2010-12-23
Mineral Wells, TX

Re: AT&Ts unlock policy is a load of crap

T-Mobile has been swift but of course it doesn't bother them.. AT&T on the other hand loves having a grip on peoples devices... I was lucky and glad I was able to get my iPhones unlocked on ebay when they where really cheap.. And as far as my T-Mobile phone its been very straight forward on the unlock process.., in any case Nexus 5 says it all if you want a fully unlocked phone
MrBentor

join:2003-02-18
Seattle, WA

Re: AT&Ts unlock policy is a load of crap

Every time I've called T-mobile they've been quick to do what I ask. Unlock? Okay we will have the code to you in a day or two.... Even though all the phones that I have from them are under contract, I still generally get them unlocked as soon as I get them...

Then again I live on a border area and travel to Canada a lot - and $15.00 per megabyte for data roaming is rape.
Mr Matt

join:2008-01-29
Eustis, FL
kudos:1
Reviews:
·Millenicom
·Embarq Now Centu..
·Comcast
·CenturyLink

1 recommendation

Carriers won't reduce monthly charge after contract is fulfilled.

Most carriers try to weasel customers into replacing handsets after contract is fulfilled to lock the customer into a new two year contract. Wireless carriers do not tell customers that it benefits a wireless carrier when the customer replaces a handset. When carriers start whining about the cost to replace a handset most of that is BS. Once the customer replaces a handset the carrier does not have to deal with the legacy issues of the old handset. I wonder what Verizon is going to do when they upgrade their entire network to LTE, give the customer the finger.

In many cases when a customer replaces a handset the carrier screws them when they force the customer to subscribe to a more costly plan. I remember when a friend of mine went ballistic when Cingular demanded that the customer replace their TDMA handset with a GSM handset and refused to continue their legacy unlimited plan.
thedragonmas

join:2007-12-28
Albany, GA
kudos:1

Re: Carriers won't reduce monthly charge after contract is fulfilled.

that is exactly why i havent bothered "upgrading" even though my 2 year is up, for one theres that bs upgrade fee, which they dont charge if you take "advantage" of there "att next" crap, but then theres all so the forced mandatory data fee. being legally blind i have no use what so ever for data on those phones, i just need a large screen with big text, but to get that id have to pay nearly double my current plan. orrr if i get a "smart" phone with text to speech im still screwd. youd think theyd have some discounts for disabled folks, but they dont. when i contacted the "office of the president" all i got was a severely outdated list of 3rd party paid software (most of which was actually no longer available) if the FCC wants to regulate, how about thinkin about us disabled folks eh? especially with cell phones replacing landlines.

but ive went OT a bit. the cost of the handsets are all so to me at least bs, i mean i get it, there itty bitty computers but $500+ ? really? and what about folks that just want a "dumb phone" ? dads 71, he just wants a simple basic phone, well that cost me $200 WITH contract because the only one att had at the time was a samsung rugby 2.. sure its a nice phone, but man the prices just make no sence. and thats why people still fall for the contract thing.

and then you get no discount when its up, att keeps maken out there att next thing like its some super big deal, no its not, it saves you nothing. all they did is push the subsidy on to the consumer so they can pocket even more profit, as you get 0 discount for service. sure theyl say at the end of the contract you "save" the monthly fee, but thats not a reduction in the service cost.

n2jtx

join:2001-01-13
Glen Head, NY

Sprint

Well I guess Sprint's unlock policy is concise; domestic unlock? Go to hell is their response. Just tried for three weeks to get my iPhone 4S completely unlocked as it is off contract and they said no. Sprint policy is to never unlock an iPhone other than for international SIM's.

I guess that is plain enough.

As always; AVOID SPRINT IF YOU POSSIBLY CAN. THEY ARE CONSUMER UNFRIENDLY AND THEIR 3G DATA SPEEDS IN MOST AREAS ARE NOT MUCH BETTER THAN 1XRTT. You will pay the same price for an iPhone no matter who you get it from. In that case, you might as well buy it from a carrier that will give you full ownership when you pay it off.

quote:
When receiving unlocking requests, carriers must either grant the unlock request or provide their reason why not within two days.
Yes, their response is "NO" because it is their policy not to. Clear enough?
--
I support the right to keep and arm bears.
openbox9
Premium
join:2004-01-26
Germany
kudos:2

Re: Sprint

said by n2jtx:

Well I guess Sprint's unlock policy is concise; domestic unlock? Go to hell is their response.

Makes them a great fit with Softbank.

n2jtx

join:2001-01-13
Glen Head, NY

Re: Sprint

From what I have heard about SoftBank, I agree and it is kind of sad to hear that SoftBank could be as bad as the other carriers. Makes T-Mobile look better every day.
--
I support the right to keep and arm bears.
openbox9
Premium
join:2004-01-26
Germany
kudos:2

Re: Sprint

As a current Softbank customer, I really didn't understand the excitement arount here when the acquisition was announced. A third-rate carrier acquiring another doesn't magically make something great.

n2jtx

join:2001-01-13
Glen Head, NY

Re: Sprint

said by openbox9:

As a current Softbank customer, I really didn't understand the excitement arount here when the acquisition was announced. A third-rate carrier acquiring another doesn't magically make something great.

At first, nobody really knew anything about SoftBank and with Sprint service having been pretty bad on the data side and their Network Vision program stalled in many places, it looked like a savior coming into to rescue us. Then someone actually started researching SoftBank and it became apparent that this acquisition may very well to turn out to be what is euphemistically called a clusterf__k. Luckily we have three other carriers to choose from. If I had to choose a new carrier, my choice in order would be; T-Mobile (my original carrier), Verizon and AT&T. You would have to tie me down and beat me with a brick to go with AT&T but if they were the only one left I probably would not have much choice.
--
I support the right to keep and arm bears.

linicx
Caveat Emptor
Premium
join:2002-12-03
United State
Reviews:
·TracFone Wireless
·CenturyLink
Verizon does not unlock iPhones or give you ownership of any thing. They lied, caused me a lot of stress, and then says their gonna ruin my credit because I refused to pay an ETF for a phone that does not work. I said they tell it to the judge.
--
Mac: No windows, No Gates, Apple inside

michieru
Premium
join:2009-07-25
Miami, FL
Reviews:
·Comcast Business..

!

From all the BS spam I get in the mail over advertising from Comcast and other carriers I can't help but laugh over how transparent the argument over "informing users". Of course when it comes to caps or a new deal that locks you in for 2 years they are up in arms about informing the masses about it.

It could even be a line item on a monthly statement. Incredible.
BiggA

join:2005-11-23
EARTH

Sell unlocked

They should be forced to sell unlocked, and soon, with the advanced in chipsets, they should all be forced to sell phones that are AT&T/Sprint/Verizon/T-Mobile capable.
Expand your moderator at work
meowmeow

join:2003-07-26
Helena, MT

Not enough

Three things, all missing - ONE there needs to be open access provisions allowing any FCC-certified technically compatible phone (see: Verizon with the Nexus 7, and anything on Sprint).

TWO - there needs to be a removable security mandate (ban the SIM-less design of all Sprint phones except the iPhone and Verizon phones that don't have LTE)

THREE - require unlocks be without restrictions, this one aimed specifically at Sprint who will "unlock" an iPhone in a way it still rejects any SIM with a US country code (it's only unlocked for non-US carriers)
RobertJTownley

join:2001-04-13
Omaha, NE

Re: Not enough

A few years ago, Verizon's CEO declared on the "Charlie Rose" show that 4G would end all incompatibility issues between carriers. However, a 4G phone purchased from play.google.com only work with ATT or TMobile and not Verizon? We should be able to buy any 4G phone and use it with any carrier.

inteller
Sociopaths always win.

join:2003-12-08
Tulsa, OK

ban all locked phones on "no contract" carriers

If you are selling full price iphones locked to you, you have no right to claim subsidy and lock phones (looking at you AIO wireless)
--
"WHEN THE LAUGH TRACK STARTS THEN THE FUN STARTS!"
MrBentor

join:2003-02-18
Seattle, WA

Sue in Small Claims when they refuse to unlock YOUR device.

One friend of my had a simple fix he used once... They refused to unlock the phone he owns, he went to the local courthouse and filed a small claims tort for the full retail price of the phone for a new unlocked one, and it served on the manager of the closest retail outlet of the carrier.
pkorx8

join:2003-06-19
San Francisco, CA

Complete FCC "dog & pony" show

This is just a show by the FCC to pretend it is pro-consumer and a gain political brownie points for whoever the FCC reports to.

Unlocking a cell phone is completely missing the point, one cannot switch among all available carriers in US because each of the 4 big carriers have their own radio technology and spectrum bands. For example, no matter how unlocked a verizon CDMA phone is, you cannot make it work on the other 3 carriers.

Why is it that most mainstream media covering the story does not even mention incompatible radio technologies?
The fact I'm posting to this forum is like I'm preaching to the choir.... nothing to see here move along....

I don't know if I'm technically off here (and kindly correct me if I'm wrong), but the FCC (or the powers that be) should have pushed all carriers to a compatible technology and spectrum sharing scheme during the LTE transition. Too late now, as the LTE landscape is even more fragmented than before.

One caveat to this is the new multi radio devices coming on market, referring to the Nexus5 here. It covers all radio/spectrum (including LTE) from 3 of the 4 carriers and actually will allow one to move among these carriers. Technically, the inclusion of the Sprint CDMA+LTE radios into a GSM device is the big story here.

Again, why doesn't mainstream media and even tech reviews of this device even mention this game changing release?