US wireless carriers now required to unlock phones

As of February 11, all major US wireless carriers must unlock phones for customers if asked, which gives more freedom to switch carriers.

Paul Sakuma
File - Customer holds an Apple iPhone 4G from AT&T, left, and Verizon Apple iPhones at an Apple store in Palo Alto, Calif.

As of this week, all major US wireless carriers must fulfill requests to unlock off-contract and prepaid phones, as long as certain guidelines are followed.

President Obama signed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act into law last August, and CTIA, a trade group representing the wireless communications industry, committed to having all carriers obey the new rules by February 11, 2015.

Unlocking a phone allows a consumer to take a device to another service provider, such as switching your existing iPhone 6 from AT&T to T-Mobile. Prior to this agreement, Americans essentially had to choose between sticking with a carrier or buying a new phone.

While most wireless carriers had policies regarding unlocking off-contract phones, the ultimate decision was left to the carrier. Now, once a device is paid off in full, wireless companies must comply with consumer requests within two business days.

“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," state the guidelines from CTIA. “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.”

In addition, the law requires carriers to inform consumers when a device is eligible to be unlocked and must unlock phones for deployed military personnel.

While US carriers are now required to unlock phones, there are plenty attempting to skirt around the new policies in small ways. Most notably, Sprint will only unlock phones for domestic use for models released after February 11. If you bought your phone the day before, Sprint will only unlock a phone for international access.

Not every phone will work on every network. For example, Verizon uses different wireless technology than AT&T, so even if your Verizon phone is unlocked, you cannot necessarily switch to America's second largest carrier with the same phone.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.