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US carriers agree to make cellphone unlocking easier for regular people

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iPhone 5 Verizon/AT&T SIM switch
iPhone 5 Verizon/AT&T SIM switch

Five major US wireless carriers reached an agreement today on standardizing unlocking of cell phones and tablets. The group includes AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless, which have all agreed on six policy decisions that cover both prepaid and postpaid unlocking. Those standards lay out specific times, practices, and eligibility requirements for device owners to get free unlocks. All are being wrapped into the CTIA's consumer code of conduct, which means other companies will have to adopt them within the next 12 months, if approved.

Plan standardizes unlock policies between carriers

The new rules require carriers to provide clear disclosure on unlocking policies for phone and tablet owners who sign up for multi-year plans, as well as with prepaid devices, which can be unlocked after a year. Carriers also need to provide notice to customers who are eligible for an unlocking, and proceed to unlock the device within two days from the time of any request. Lastly, the agreement calls for a blanket policy on unlocking phones to any deployed military personnel, as long as they show papers.

The agreement, which has been presented to the Federal Communications Commission, is a direct response to a petition on the Library of Congress's decision not to renew language within the DMCA that legalized unlocking, as well as last month's ultimatum from new FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to strike such a deal. The new plan does not spell out what happens to those who attempt to unlock a device before a contract period is up, though it makes it more clear and consistent for what the unlocking processes are, and the timelines for each type of customer. News that a set of guidelines was imminent was reported earlier today by Reuters.