The Federal Communications Commission has sent a letter to wireless industry trade association CTIA asking that the trade association include device unlocking into the consumer code that its member carriers have voluntarily committed to providing. The letter comes just weeks into newly approved FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s tenure.
“During my first week on the job, I continually emphasized the importance of competition and the FCC’s receptiveness to voluntary industry activities to promote competition,” Wheeler noted in a letter addressed to CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent. “For eight months, the FCC staff has been working with CTIA on an amendment to your consumer code in which this industry would address consumers’ rights to unlock their mobile wireless devices once their contracts are fulfilled.”
Wheeler noted that any policy on the matter would need to include five parts:
–Provide a clear, concise and readily accessible policy on unlocking.
–Unlock mobile wireless devices for customers, former customers and legitimate owners when the applicable service contract, installment plan or early termination fee has been fulfilled.
–Affirmatively notify customers when their devices are eligible for unlocking and/or automatically unlock devices when eligible, without an additional fee.
–Process unlocking requests or provide an explanation of denial within two business days.
–Unlock devices for military personnel upon deployment.
Wheeler noted in the letter that the FCC and CTIA were in agreement on all of the parts, except for the third one.
“Absent the consumer’s right to be informed about unlocking eligibility, any voluntary program would be a hollow shell,” Wheeler added.
Unlocking has been a contentious issue with some carriers who claim that consumers will not be able to gain access to embedded services if they use a device not initially set up for access to their networks. CTIA has stated some concern related to the bulk unlocking of devices in relation to the potential of stolen mobile devices. In August, CTIA released a statement in connection to former Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn’s statement regarding device unlocking highlighted the vast number of already unlocked devices available to consumers from both independent manufacturers and carriers.
“CTIA appreciates Acting Chairwoman Clyburn’s call for clear and transparent policies on phone unlocking, and looks forward to working with the commission to ensure that consumers are aware of the wide variety of unlocked devices that are available,” CTIA noted. “Consumers seeking to change providers have numerous unlocking policy options to choose from when selecting a wireless provider or a mobile wireless plan. Today there are more than 240 unlocked devices available for purchase from a wireless carrier, retail store or directly from the manufacturer. Given the plethora of choices among handsets and the other factors that differentiate carriers and networks, it is clear that consumers continue to benefit from the competitive market for mobile services.”
Wheeler had previously served as president and CEO at CTIA between 1992 and 2004, while Largent recently announced plans to step down from his role at the trade association by the end of next year.
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