Proposed FCC rule for new phones would give consumers the freedom they’ve longed for

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The FCC is looking to make a huge rule change in the U.S. which would force wireless carriers to unlock phones purchased from them only 60 days after the device was activated. Typically, when you purchase a new phone, it remains locked to the carrier you bought it from until the phone is paid off or any contract involved in its purchase expires. Once a phone is unlocked, the owner can switch carriers and bring the device with him to a new wireless provider as long as the network is compatible with the phone.

In a press release that was disseminated on Thursday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said, “Real competition benefits from transparency and consistency. That is why we are proposing clear, nationwide mobile phone unlocking rules. When you buy a phone, you should have the freedom to decide when to change service to the carrier you want and not have the device you own stuck by practices that prevent you from making that choice.”

During a July 18th Open Meeting, the FCC will vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will create a set of unlocking rules that all wireless providers will be forced to obey. By forcing all wireless firms to unlock the handsets they sell using a set of rules that will apply to all carriers, it increases the competition in the industry by minimizing switching costs. Applying the same unlocking rules to all providers also reduces the amount of confusion that customers have to deal with.

The public will get the opportunity to comment on any proposed rule change and will also get to decide whether a new unlocking rule should be applied to existing contracts or future contracts. The public will also get to comment on whether they believe that a 60-day forced unlocking rule will impact the incentive of wireless providers to offer discounts on new phones for postpaid or prepaid service plans.

Consumers will be asked whether the new unlocking proposal would benefit smaller providers, new wireless firms, and resellers such as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) by increasing the number of handsets available in the secondary markets.

Note that when we say unlock, we are not writing about the phone owner’s ability to unlock his phone using facial recognition, another biometric feature, or by typing in a passcode. The type of unlocking that the FCC proposal deals with would remove the software on a phone that prevents the device from being used on other networks that are otherwise fully compatible with the device.

Currently, if you make a request with your carrier to unlock your phone, you might have to wait anywhere between two to thirty days or more depending on the carrier. This type of uneven response from wireless providers is what the FCC is hoping to eliminate.


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