Earlier this year it became illegal to unlock your own smartphone as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a decision by the U.S. government that we agreed was pretty dumb. Thankfully, the FCC and the CTIA—an industry trade group representing AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint—have come to a new agreement that puts the responsibility on the country’s major carriers to unlock user’s smartphones, though only if they meet certain qualifications.
Basically, if you’re a current or former customer who has paid off the device entirely through a monthly plan or with an early termination fee, your carrier will be obligated to unlock the device for free. For customers who purchase prepaid devices, carriers will be required to unlock the device within a year of purchase, though you still have to ask them to do it. Best of all, it’s up to the carriers to tell their customers when a device is eligible to be unlocked, so even if you forget they have to remind you.
The CTIA’s statement promises to implement these new rules within 12 months. It also notes that qualifying unlocking requests will be taken care of within two business days, and makes an exception for the military. Any smartphone owner being deployed and “in good standing” with the carrier can have their phone unlocked no matter when they purchased the device.
This seems like a fair solution. It’s still not right that you can’t unlock a phone you paid for whenever you want to, but under these new rules you’ll likely be able to accumulate unlocked devices pretty quickly so that you have one when you need it.