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The FCC and U.S. wireless carriers are still working on a few details

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is working with U.S. carriers to complete new rules for unlocking cell phones, and it looks like an agreement is on the horizon.

According to Reuters, the new agreement is expected make sure that carriers notify customers about their cell phone unlocking eligibility (via text or otherwise) and also require them to process or deny unlocking requests within two business days.

Some prepaid phones could also be included in these new rules.  

Unlocking a cell phone means that it can be used with any carrier, but it became illegal for consumers to do it themselves earlier this year after a ruling by the Librarian of Congress.
This means that consumers have to depend on carriers to unlock their phones, and this isn't always easy. Sometimes carriers refuse to do so because they want to lock customers into their service contracts in exchange for heavy subsidized prices on new devices. This is particularly inconvenient for consumers traveling abroad who don't want huge roaming charges, or if they simply want to change carriers. 

But now, the rules are expected to allow mobile customers to unlock their phones after their contact expires. It will also bring uniformity to all U.S. carriers, so that different rules across different carriers don't become a headache. 
The Reuters report mentioned that the FCC and U.S. carriers are still discussing key points before an agreement is made, such as how fast the new policy would be rolled out; how to keep unlocked phones off of black markets, and how pre-paid phones would be handled.
The agreement is expected "soon."
Just last month, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler sent a letter to Steve Largent, President and CEO of CTIA Wireless Association, which is a trade group that represents cellular carriers. The letter told wireless carriers to unlock consumer's cell phones once they've fulfilled contract obligations, or the FCC will be forced to regulate. 
You can check the full letter out here

Source: Reuters

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Subsidy is worst ever business practice to customers
By Roy2001 on 12/12/2013 1:19:15 PM , Rating: 2
Subsidy is worst ever business practice to US customers. We have no choice, but to pick the phones carriers sell, and we have to buy the phone like a car or a house. We have to pay down payment, then pay monthly "mortgage" payment even though you don't use their phone or you don't renew the plan to get a new phone. So every month you pay extra $20 now matter what.

In addition to pay monthly fee for higher priced phone, you don't have the ownership (yes as you have not paid in full yet), and the phone is locked, you have to beg after 3 months minimumly, or wait for 2 years (for iphone).

Subsidy sucks and we need our freedom!

By hughlle on 12/12/2013 1:38:47 PM , Rating: 2
I love my contract personally.

People should just be given the choice, like most other countries in the world. Buy a subsidized contract, or buy a handset and a separate 30 day contract/pay as you go sim.

By Roy2001 on 12/12/2013 1:50:55 PM , Rating: 2
I don't mean they should cancel subsidy/contract at all. I just mean they should give customers choices.

By Solandri on 12/12/2013 2:49:58 PM , Rating: 5
The problem isn't that subsidized contracts are bad. The problem is that it's not a subsidy.

I'm on a 3-year old smartphone. I bought it subsidized with a 2 year contract. If it were a real subsidy, then it was fully paid for after 2 years and my monthly service rate should have dropped. It did not - I'm still paying the same monthly service rate as before even though I'm using a phone that's fully paid off and not subsidized.

It is not a subsidy. It's a financial mechanism to coerce people into spending more money to buy a new phone every 2 years. While I am looking to upgrade, I'm in no hurry. The old phone still works. But because of the carriers' "subsidy" model, I'm essentially paying them an extra ~$20/mo for a phone that's completely bought and paid for.

If they really wanted it to be a subsidy, they would simply structure the subsidy as a loan because that's what it is. They loan you $400 to reduce the $600 phone's cost to $200. Then they charge you $20/mo for 2 years to repay the phone ($400 in principal, $80 in interest). Your cell phone bill would then have two parts - the monthly service and the loan repayment.

And when the phone is fully paid for, the loan repayment disappears and all you're left with is the monthly service. But the way the carriers have it structured, the loan repayment continues even after you've paid off the phone, thus coercing you into buying a new phone so you aren't repaying a loan for nothing.

By jbwhite99 on 12/13/2013 12:15:29 PM , Rating: 2
That's what T-Mobile is doing.

By philpoe on 12/13/2013 2:00:28 PM , Rating: 2
And now AT&T as well.

All the "budget" carriers do something similar. Pay the full price for the phone, then get the discounted plan. Until recently they contracted cut-rate phones.

By SAN-Man on 12/14/2013 9:19:18 AM , Rating: 2
I can't possibly believe this statement... unless you are ignorant there is no benefit to a contract plan.

By mackx on 12/12/2013 1:57:35 PM , Rating: 2
subsiding phones isn't that bad of a thing, doing it without an alternative is a bad thing.

we in the UK have a choice of getting a new phone (or using an old one) and just buying a sim only deal.

e.g i'm with Three, unlimited internet (use over 100GB a month), 200 mins and 5000 text a month for £12.90. 5000 minutes for £15 etc

i'm sticking with this as it's a rolling monthly contract and i can just ask for a PAC to move telco and i'm on another carrier the next day usually.

thankfully, we have competition to thank for this

By Monkey's Uncle on 12/12/2013 2:00:41 PM , Rating: 1
I am not sure what you are talking about here. Just looked at AT&T's site and you can buy phones outright there with no contract at all. Likewise if you have your own unlocked phone from somewhere else you can get a SIM for free if you pick a plan to use it with. Again, no contract.

Nobody is twisting your arm to accept the carrier's subsidized phones. If you have your own, use it. If you don't they will be more than happy to sell you one for full price.

HOWEVER if you insist on getting a discounted (subsidized) phone from, you can. You just have to realize there is no such thing a free lunch. They will make sure you pay off that discount as part of your monthly payments. Carriers are not in the business to give away very expensive pieces of equipment for free.

By Orchunter on 12/12/2013 2:42:58 PM , Rating: 2
Well, the issues that really irritate people are

1. Even after you are off the contract they do not lower the monthly bill .
2. Even if you have a phone of your own , you are paying the exact same rate a person who is buying a subsidized phone ( at least on AT&T ).

By cbgoding on 12/13/2013 11:50:02 AM , Rating: 2
I don't see how? I just started an off-contract gophone plan with at&t, at 60/mo. On contract they charge 95/mo, assuming both plans are 2GB.

By Cheesew1z69 on 12/13/2013 12:00:19 PM , Rating: 2
That, you weren't on 2 year contract that expired, that's what he is talking about. When my 2 year with Verizon is up next July, they aren't going to lower my bill, that's his point.

By philpoe on 12/13/2013 2:05:03 PM , Rating: 2
AT&T recently started offering a $15/mo "discount" for off-contract plans. In other words, if you've paid off the phone at the end of a 2yr contact, or are on their "Next" plans, where you're financing the phone separately, your plan is $15/mo less. A store rep also verified that if you bring your own device, it's $15/mo less as well.

I have to believe that this is at least partially in response to T-Mobile's "Un-Carrier" campaign

By philpoe on 12/13/2013 2:02:19 PM , Rating: 2
I'm pretty sure that AT&T only started allowing retail purchase of phones with their Next program, where they separated phone financing from telecomm plan pricing.

"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook
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