Newly appointed FCC chairman calls for wireless carriers to unlock cell phones

By on November 15, 2013, 5:00 PM

Newly appointment chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, is already kickstarting some changes by issuing a letter surrounding regulations on carrier locked cell phones.

As you likely know, unlocking a device allows it to be functional on networks other than the original carrier. For quite some time, wireless carriers were happy to unlock a device after your contract was fulfilled, until earlier this year when doing so became illegal. After the Library of Congress dropped a particular exemption from the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, carriers were unable to unlock devices the way they had in the past. Wheeler is strongly opposed to this and is now pushing the industry to address "consumers' rights to unlock their mobile wireless devices."

Chairman Wheeler wrote in a letter issued to the president of the wireless carrier representative association, CTIA, calling for a clear and concise policy regarding the unlocking of devices after a contract has been fulfilled. Wheeler said in the letter that enough "time has passed, and it is now time for the industry to act voluntarily or for the FCC to regulate."

He went on to say the FCC wants the unlocking process to happen within two days of request and at no additional fee. The commission also wants military personnel devices to be unlocked upon deployment. Lastly, Wheeler says that carriers should have to "affirmatively notify" customers when their devices become eligible for unlocking, something he says is one of the only points in the letter the FCC and CTIA are yet to agree on.

In response to the FCC's letter, CTIA vice president of regulatory affairs Scott Bergman had this to say:

We look forward to continuing discussions under Chairman Wheeler's leadership and to ensuring consumers continue to benefit from the world-leading range of competitive devices and offerings. Today's U.S. consumers have a wide variety of unlocked devices and liberal carrier unlocking policies available to them. CTIA also continues to advocate for the passage of 'The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act' (H.R. 1123), which would address consumer confusion about unlocking as a result of the 2012 decision of the Librarian of Congress. 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.

(Image via Shutterstock)




User Comments: 16

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Guest said:

You go dude. You bought the phone, so you should own it. This ain't software.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

You go dude. You bought the phone, so you should own it. This ain't software.
No it is hardware turned off by software to bring cheaper devices, because the features that are locked were not paid for. If you want all the features unlocked on all the phones, they will all come with a higher price tag.

Guest said:

Why should we have to pay for features already in place but just locked. locking phones is just a cheep way to make more money that no one really needs

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Locking features on a phone is a way for them to mass produce the same phone while selling different configurations of that phones. The same concept is used on many different things. CPU's and GPU's are sold the same way. While there are people who don't mind spending $500 to a $1000 on CPU or GPU, there are many times more people who don't and choose to purchase CPU's and GPU's with features locked or throttled. Your question should be why the carrier locks features without a price tag option to unlock, not why you should have to pay extra for features already contained within the phone.

2 people like this | misor misor said:

Locking features on a phone is a way for them to mass produce the same phone while selling different configurations of that phones...

@cliffordcooley, I don't understand your point. I think that the topic is on network unlock so that a phone can be used on other networks and not unlocking of (additional) features. or did I miss something?

howzz1854 said:

You go dude. You bought the phone, so you should own it. This ain't software.
No it is hardware turned off by software to bring cheaper devices, because the features that are locked were not paid for. If you want all the features unlocked on all the phones, they will all come with a higher price tag.

this isn't even about features. it's about using the phone to talk and text on a different network. just because you bought a phone to use on one network, why the hell does the same person have to buy another exact phone just to use on another network. what's the logic of that? its' the same exact phone you use to talk and text.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

this isn't even about features. it's about using the phone to talk and text on a different network.
Any aspect of the phone and service whether locked or unlocked is a feature. Just because it is not advertised as a feature you don't see it as one. If they ever start advertising unlocked phones, would you then see it as a feature?

howzz1854 said:

Any aspect of the phone and service whether locked or unlocked is a feature. Just because it is not advertised as a feature you don't see it as one. If they ever start advertising unlocked phones, would you then see it as a feature?

if you honestly think it's about some kind of feature, you've been drinking their cool aid for way too long. it's about locking you into their network making it harder for customers to switch, therefore maximizing their profit.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

if you honestly think it's about some kind of feature, you've been drinking their cool aid for way too long. it's about locking you into their network making it harder for customers to switch, therefore maximizing their profit.
Of course, and if you want to buy an unlocked phone and then pay for their service you are free to do that as well. However I highly doubt you will be able to get the same low prices, which are the same low prices you will loose if carriers are forced to unlock.

People are always free to switch carriers at the end of a contract. It is not the locked phones keeping people with specific carriers, it is the contract that was signed. It is simple, if people don't want to stay with a specific carrier they don't have to continue signing contracts. There are always options to get out of signing new contracts, and locked phones is a pathetic excuse to continue serving a specific carrier.

howzz1854 said:

if you honestly think it's about some kind of feature, you've been drinking their cool aid for way too long. it's about locking you into their network making it harder for customers to switch, therefore maximizing their profit.
Of course, and if you want to buy an unlocked phone and then pay for their service you are free to do that as well. However I highly doubt you will be able to get the same low prices, which are the same low prices you will loose if carriers are forced to unlock.

People are always free to switch carriers at the end of a contract. It is not the locked phones keeping people with specific carriers, it is the contract that was signed. It is simple, if people don't want to stay with a specific carrier they don't have to continue signing contracts. There are always options to get out of signing new contracts, and locked phones is a pathetic excuse to continue serving a specific carrier.

then let me ask you. once the subsidized phone is paid off through two year contract, why is it that your phone is still locked. why is it that you're still paying the high monthly price. if by your logic, that one could purchase the unlocked phone at full price, as oppose to paying for a subsidized phone, then by the end of your two year contract, you should have a fully unlocked phone with low monthly price. the fact that many carriers still charge you the same high monthly rate even after your contract ends makes no sense.

when I switched from ATT to Tmobile, I called them about unlocking my phone to use on Tmobile, they confirmed with me on the phone that unlocking the phone would only "unlock" the phone to be able to use on another carrier on the same spectrum. it says nothing about "feature". you gain nothing more, nothing less as far as feature. it's the exact same phone. except the carrier only sell you a phone that they want you to use that phone on their system, not others. having the phone locked is not an excuse, it's to make your life more difficult to switch. this is why now Tmobile is doing awway with it. they understand that consumers are tired of having their phones locked in, even after their contract ends. more carriers are starting to follow.

1 person liked this | cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

then let me ask you. once the subsidized phone is paid off through two year contract, why is it that your phone is still locked. why is it that you're still paying the high monthly price.
You are paying for a service. The phone is to be used with their service and the cost is covered under the service. But to make sure the phone is fully paid, the service must be maintained for a specific amount of time. The phone is not a gift for you to use with another carrier. It is a tool to be used with the contract. If the phone outlast the contract, consider yourself lucky because it was only meant to be used during the cycle of the contract. Trust me when I say they don't care about the phone, they want you to stay under contract. A phone with a lifespan shorter than the contract would likely have better chances of getting you to extend your current contract.

they confirmed with me on the phone that unlocking the phone would only "unlock" the phone to be able to use on another carrier on the same spectrum. it says nothing about "feature".
The term feature can be a specific or generic term and is off topic, regardless of what you or I think the definition is.

howzz1854 said:

You are paying for a service. The phone is to be used with their service and the cost is covered under the service. But to make sure the phone is fully paid, the service must be maintained for a specific amount of time. The phone is not a gift for you to use with another carrier. It is a tool to be used with the contract. If the phone outlast the contract, consider yourself lucky because it was only meant to be used during the cycle of the contract. Trust me when I say they don't care about the phone, they want you to stay under contract. A phone with a lifespan shorter than the contract would likely have better chances of getting you to extend your current contract.

your logic fails me. how is "if the phone outlast the contract, consider yourself lucky..." logical? do you work for ATT, or Verizon? do you lobby for them? because that's the most illogical argument one could make in their case. you're basically saying if your two year contract is up, consider yourself lucky. paying more than you should is lucky? I guess that's why more and more people are switching to Tmobile every quarter. because they love paying more than they should, and they love the two year contract.and I guess that's why ATT and Verizon are doing such a great job winner over their customer, because people just LOVE to be tied into two year contracts.

and if the two year contract is there to cover the cost under the service, you don't see them rushing to your mailbox to lower your bill once that two year is up. "hey customers, great news.. the cost is now fully covered, we're lowering your bill!!!".

you must love paying your cable bill too.

1 person liked this | cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

your logic fails me. how is "if the phone outlast the contract, consider yourself lucky..." logical? do you work for ATT, or Verizon? do you lobby for them?
You are looking at this from the consumer point of view, not the carriers. No I don't lobby for them. And no I'm not naive and actually think they want to drop charges from consumers bill either. And if my carrier found out I had a phone that by their definition would require a Data Plan, my bill would be $25 higher each month regardless of whether I use it. By the way, if I actually did use it my bill would automatically increase the $25. And it would only take a one time use, which means they would be making more money on a service that is hardly ever used. But yet here you are complaining about charges after a contract. I would rather ***** about the BS charges contained within the service period. And it doesn't matter where you go, it is the same BS throughout all carriers.

3 people like this | howzz1854 said:

You are looking at this from the consumer point of view, not the carriers. No I don't lobby for them. And no I'm not naive and actually think they want to drop charges from consumers bill either. And if my carrier found out I had a phone that by their definition would require a Data Plan, my bill would be $25 higher each month regardless of whether I use it. By the way, if I actually did use it my bill would automatically increase the $25. And it would only take a one time use, which means they would be making more money on a service that is hardly ever used. But yet here you are complaining about charges after a contract. I would rather ***** about the BS charges contained within the service period. And it doesn't matter where you go, it is the same BS throughout all carriers.

sounds like you need to look into Tmobile. you're paying more than you should.

if you happen to use the data, even if you don't really need it. it's part of the line with Tmobile, there's no additional cost. and if you go over, there's no additional cost either, it's unlimited, they'll just throttle you.

I personally don't complain about charges, I just pay the early termination fee and went to another carrier and be done with it. I don't even bother. this is why I switched and this is why consumers are fed up with the big three. to get two smart phones I would be paying $160 a month at a minimum, with less data allocation, and overage fee if additional were to incur. the same two smart phone with current Tmobile plan I pay $105 out the door, unlimited data, and no overage if you go over. best of all, if you get a new phone with Tmobile, once the phone is paid off, your bill is lowered. that time frame is typically two years. (sound familiar?)

and no I don't work for Tmobile. I just thought more people should know that they can get better deals with them than Verizon and ATT, or Sprint. and if that means letting more people know online, or offline, it'll only help the competition.

dennis777 dennis777 said:

Has somebody been jailed because they unlock their phone? can they trace it?

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