FCC Proposes New Rule to Simplify Phone Unlocking: Carriers Must Unlock Devices 60 Days After Purchase

Featured & Cover FCC Proposes New Rule to Simplify Phone Unlocking Carriers Must Unlock Devices 60 Days After Purchase

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) aims to simplify the process for consumers to unlock their mobile phones from their carriers, proposing that all devices should be unlockable just 60 days after purchase. This proposal seeks to address how it will integrate with current phone plans and purchasing trends, a topic the FCC intends to explore further before implementing the rule.

Typically, mobile phones bought from carriers are locked to that carrier until the contract expires or the phone is fully paid off. Despite progress over the years—unlocking phones was once illegal—it remains unclear to many consumers when and how they can unlock their phones to use with different carriers or in different countries.

To clarify, this isn’t about unlocking the phone using facial recognition, fingerprints, or passwords, but rather altering the phone’s software settings to enable it to work with various mobile networks.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in a press release on Thursday. “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,” she wrote. “That is why we are proposing clear, nationwide mobile phone unlocking rules.”

The proposal specifically requires carriers to provide unlocking services 60 days after activation. While this standard is welcomed, it may clash with the current dynamics of the phone and wireless markets.

For example, although the two-year contract is no longer mandatory for most consumers, many still opt for such contracts to secure pricing and other benefits. More relevantly, phones are often paid for through installment plans, where a phone is acquired for “free” but paid off over several years.

The NPRM stage in FCC rulemaking involves drafting the rule without having solicited public feedback yet. On July 18, the agency will publish the complete document and open the floor for comments on these issues. It’s expected that mobile providers will have much to say!

Without knowing the exact details of the proposed rule, it’s uncertain how it will align with these common pay-over-time arrangements. However, unlocking a phone doesn’t absolve the user from paying off the device—it simply allows them to use it on other networks. If a carrier lets a customer buy a phone outright but locks it to its bands for six months or a year purely out of greed, this rule would provide an early way out.

As Rosenworcel pointed out, the objective of the rule is to offer consistency and transparency—a straightforward, nationwide regulation that sets a reasonable limit on how and when carriers can lock devices. More details will be available in July when the full NPRM is published.

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