Cellphone unlocking still illegal in the U.S., FCC says it will redouble efforts to find solution

by: Andrew GrushAugust 23, 2013


At the very beginning of this year, cellphone unlocking essentially became illegal in the United States. Since then, we’ve seen petitions, a formal White House response and tons of chatter about how the situation will be changed. Unfortunately, all current plans have so far been all talk and no action.

Yesterday Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said that despite the topic somewhat going cold, the FCC is still working hard to find a way to make it possible for consumers to unlock their phones. “I‘ve directed the FCC staff to redouble our efforts with partners across the administration and industry to explore all of our available options for a quick resolution,” said Clyburn.

The FCC can’t actually make any laws of its own, so what exactly can they do? Not much, other than urge law-makers and carriers to do something about it.

As it turns out, Clyburn isn’t that interested in a legislation-based fix to the problem. Instead, Clyburn feels that the best solution is to work with carriers directly to make voluntarily changes to their current policies. Clyburn’s longterm goal is to ensure that once a customer has completed their contractual obligations, carriers will allow phones to be unlocked with no questions asked.

[quote qtext=”I firmly believe a voluntary approach that promotes competition and consumer choice is still possible.” qperson=”Mignon Clyburn” qsource=”Acting FCC Chairwoman” qposition=”center”]

Technically, such policies already exist at AT&T and T-Mobile. Both companies have no problem letting you unlock your new device after a contract expiration, but that same policy doesn’t necessarily extend to second-hand devices or if you missed a few payments along the way.

Honestly, I’m not so sure we can rely on carriers to make the change here. I feel that if we want real change, it will have to happen through legislation. Unfortunately, that means we could still be waiting a long time for a resolution. What do you think of device unlocking, is legislation change necessary or are current carrier policies good enough?

  • Monj

    Free America !

  • RaptorOO7

    What the FCC FAILS TO UNDERSTAND is when you leave a carrier you should have fulfilled your contract, your phone should be unlocked period. If you leave after fulfilling the contract term (2 years) or pay the ETF which then fulfills the contract it makes little difference. Only if the customer fails to pay their ETF or has not fulfilled the contact terms should it not be unlocked.

    However you should be allowed and the carriers should be required to accept your phone so long as it supports the radio technology. Verizon & Sprint should be required to accept each others phones just as you can use your AT&T or T-Mo phones on each others network.

  • 72goojman72

    These carriers have wayyyyy to much power & basically have a monopoly on the phone business.

  • GhostRecon55

    This is a discussion that will go back and forth between users, but the carriers are doing what any company would do. When you’re in a contract, you are leasing to own the device you selected. Think about it, you have a device that cost between $400-650 @ a greatly reduced price for agreeing to a 2yr lease. So you don’t actually “own” it till the contact is over. Technically, if you miss enough payments, they could reposess the device. If you buy the device outright, the carrier could care less what you do with it. I think the government doesn’t need to be burdened with this issue. I mean, look how screwed up things are now with way more important issues.

    • Krzysztof Jozwik

      Technically you own the device. The service is on contract, not the device. You’re entirely wrong, they cannot repo the device. Granted this doesn’t apply to Edge / Jump / Next / T-Mo’s new way of doing business. But in the subsidized model you own the device, not lease it, not lease to own, you own it as soon as you sign on the line.

  • Andrew

    Does anyone even enforce this? I also find it interesting how quick they were to say it was illegal, only have have a harder time saying it’s not. I guess I’ll just have to remain a felon longer running around with my unlocked phone, oooooo scary….

  • Anonymous

    This is SO not enforced. The only way to enforce this would be to have random ‘Phone Officers’ running around demanding everyone to have their phones checked.

  • Sergio

    I unlocked my Galaxy S II skyrocket and also my girlfriend’s. Arrest me.