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An unlocked phone means more phone freedom

unlocked phone

New rules provide new freedoms for your unlocked phone

New carrier rules dealing with locking and unlocking phones come into full effect today.

In short: Going forward, unless a phone is connected in some way to an account that owes the carrier money, said carrier will unlock the phone if asked to do so. Carriers have the option to do so automatically as soon as a contract term is fulfilled, but we won’t hold our breath for that.

For prepaid carriers, the carrier must allow a device to be unlocked one year after it was first activated.

It’s called the Consumer Code for Wireless Service and February 11, 2015 was the deadline for full carrier compliance.

It wouldn’t be difficult to argue that these new unlocked phone rules don’t go far enough or that they only came about because the other option was looking like regulation. Still, it’s a real win for consumers.


Previously, even if you purchased your phone outright or if you’d completed whatever contract term you agreed to, your phone was probably still leashed to the carrier you bought it from. Carriers, while technically quite capable of unlocking your phone, didn’t have to if they didn’t want to. Some would, some wouldn’t and the circumstances in which they would (or wouldn’t) were about as clear as mud.

Now, things are much more clear: If my phone is locked to your network, I’ve fulfilled the terms of my contract and I don’t owe you any money, you, as my carrier, should unlock it for me. Going a small step further, you should make it super easy for me to unlock the device I bought from you. Maybe add an unlock button to my online account tools so I don’t have to call you. That’s something we at Ting are working on now. Just putting that on the record.

What’s the catch?

There’s always a gotcha. These new rules are effective going forward so carriers could argue that only phones launched commercially after this date should be subject. Also, the rules were put together and agreed upon by the CTIA, formerly the Communication Telecommunication Industry Alliance, i.e. the carriers and a few other corporations. It feels a bit like the foxes watching the chicken coop.

The six rules, which are part of a larger 12 points in a “Consumer Code” are more favorable to customers generally, but in truth, it’s more about righting a wrong than taking a bold new step toward a brighter wireless future.

Still, it’s progress!

We’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

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