Wireless carriers in the United States are now liable to unlock cellphones once the user’s contract is paid off, in accordance with an agreement made between the carriers and the Federal Communications Commission.
The agreement was made in 2013 and brought into effect Feb. 11, 2015. The two vital parts of the agreement state:
“Postpaid Unlocking Policy. Carriers, upon request, will unlock mobile wireless devices or provide the necessary information to unlock their devices for their customers and former customers in good standing and individual owners of eligible devices after the fulfillment of the applicable postpaid service contract, device financing plan, or payment of applicable early termination fee.
“Prepaid Unlocking Policy. Carriers, upon request, will unlock prepaid mobile wireless devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time, payment or usage requirements.”
Carriers are also now obliged to inform potential customers of their unlocking policies, to provide notice to customers when their devices are eligible for unlocking, respond to unlock requests within two business days, and unlock devices for deployed military personnel.
Unlocking a cellphone was bizarrely made illegal in 2010 due to a legal decision concerning the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
When a cellphone is locked, its use is restricted to only the carrier that issued the phone. Unlocking a cellphone allows it to be used on any network, regardless of carrier.