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back to article New FCC supremo: Sort out your cell unlocking, mobe giants - OR ELSE

The US telco regulator has told mobile firms to come up with a plan allowing customers to receive unlock codes for their phones when their contracts are up – or it will force them to comply. The Federal Communications Commission said in a letter to the wireless trade group CTIA that the industry needed to adopt a voluntary …

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Silver badge

About blanking time.

It should be standard policy that any phone that fulfills its contract plan be unlocked automatically, as the contract (the reason FOR the phone lock) is completed at this point. Historically, T-Mobile USA has been very reasonable if a little reticent about unlocking (when I was with them, they let you do it as early as 6 months, and without charge except maybe a phone call) while AT&T has been as reluctant as can be. Can't say about the other GSM providers, but some consistency in this matter can only help.

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Bronze badge

Re: About blanking time.

O2 were utterly unhelpful cnuts about it, even >2 years after the contract was up.. That one's still ongoing, and after 2 strikes (bodged directions) I daren't risk trying again without their help ... on which I've been waiting about a year now: (

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Silver badge

Re: About blanking time.

I agree, it should industry policy to unlock after contract expiration, and it actually is the policy. The hangup in all this is that "without an additional fee" caveat the FCC wants.

I know for a fact that at least one major carrier wanted to further subsidize the phones and offer a "permanently locked" category. The same carrier also tried an 'unlock surcharge' contract where the unlocking was paid for over the length of the contract with no additional fee at unlock time. Both were shot down by the FCC.

With something like this you'd think that the battle was over customer churn, but it isn't. It's over a couple of dollar fee the carriers view as their right for providing the unlock service. One way or another the carriers will get their fee though, even if it's embedded in something else. My only concern is that it will cost consumers more if the carriers 'sneak' the fee in, instead of having a straight up line item.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: About blanking time.

O2 were utterly unhelpful cnuts about it, even >2 years after the contract was up.. That one's still ongoing, and after 2 strikes (bodged directions) I daren't risk trying again without their help ... on which I've been waiting about a year now: (

Write complaint to O2 legal department, with a CC to the regulator and Trading Standards (or Consumer Direct or whatever they call that outfit this week). Send by registered post so you have proof of delivery, and give them 2 weeks to sort it or you'll file a formal complaint. And follow that up ASAP - never let an issue lie too long because there is an expiry time.. If that doesn't work, escalate to the EU ombudsman because they have been trying to regulate those telecom sods for ages.

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Anonymous Coward

The commission has assured folks that it has "taken significant measures" to ensure that volunteers who help it collect the data will hang on to their privacy and confidentiality, promising not to slurp any personally identifiable data.

- Yes, cuz the US Gov has an excellent track record in that area so far dunnit?

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Silver badge

Why lock them anyway?

If you're locked into contract, you're going to be paying for it anyway.

Any if you bought it outright, there's even less excuse for it.

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Anonymous Coward

Black market exports - that's why. It will only stop the average person though.

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Silver badge

That's usually stopped by the frequency gap. Most US phones don't work well abroad. Most of them use a frequency unavailable in the US as it's a military frequency there. I think the locking is more to stop provider-jumping in the event of unusual deals.

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Bronze badge

Pricing...

What is needed is a separate line item in your phone bill that is the "contract subsidy" value that you are obligated to pay over the (nominally) two year period. After that, you get discounted, and your unlock code. Even nicer would be an "automatic" feature that the provider sends to your phone when the time comes, and a note in your bill.

Takes the "customer service" reps out of the loop. A "good thing" in anyone's book. Not to mention saves some $$$ in the process by not needing people to handle the calls to do the unlock.

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Bronze badge

This being the US under discussion, there is one flaw: The carriers use different frequencies. I remember in the 3G days, you could not move a phone across different carriers(at least not the big ones) because of the different technologies.

I suppose 4G has mitigated some of that, but how many of the handset "exclusives" are down to the fact that the phone was only built to handle the one carrier. Remember that PAYG phones are very uncommon here, and "SIM-Free" is practically unheard of.

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Boffin

LTE has actually made it worse. UMTS/HSPA isn't much of a problem, especially now that T-Mobile has been upgrading its network to support non-AWS-capable devices. And I've seen SIM cards for sale at Wally World and CVS, so the idea does appear to be catching on.

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Silver badge

I'm of the impression that LTE has helped to stabilize things at least in regards to the two big ones (T-Mobile and AT&T). Each has settled on one band (IV and XVII, respectively) so US LTE phones tens to keep those bands and play the field with the field with the remaining band allotments (My S4 for example supports I and VII, good enough for most foreign use).

And I've seen Net10 change over to a SIM-only provider with their SIMs available here and there. Of course, you could also get SimpleMobile SIMs cheap over the mail.

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Silver badge

FCC Speed Test app

I'm concerned that the providers will game this. I know the cable ISPs game the more popular bandwidth test sites.

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Re: FCC Speed Test app

There was an FCC Speed Test app many moons ago on iOS. I guess they're having a second go at it.

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Bronze badge

Not going to make a squat of difference.

Here in Australia, they'll unlock it at the end of your contact, but holy hell, they'll make life unlivable if you try.

My sister tried it some time after the end of her Vodaphone contract with the intent to "hand me down" the phone to mum. Yeah, good luck with that.

They promised to email us the website and details, but after repeating a number of different emails, we were forced to come to the conclusion that either everyone at Voda is dyslexic, or illiterate, or idiots, or all of the above... Don't start me on being policitally incorrect, we were all royally pissed by this stage - was a fucking month and half, three or four email addresses, and stuff knows how many phone calls.

Once we did get to this hitherto mythical website, it didn't work. (not that was hard to use, the numbers just didn't work) More phone calls later, we managed to get them to do it over the phone.

This was good month and a half with (supposedly) dozens of emails back and forth and who knows how many phone calls later (no idea actually, because the calls were split between my sister and myself), it finally worked.

It's easy to say they "allow it", but it DOES NOT mean they'll make it easy for you, of this, I can assure you.

I cannot says this enough NEVER EVER EVER EVER "buy" a phone on contract. Do an outright purchase, or do do without. Don't come crying to me if you can't do anything with your phone outside of your original carrier at the end of your contract. Heard it enough here, and I'm sick of it.

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Silver badge

Re: Not going to make a squat of difference.

"I cannot says this enough NEVER EVER EVER EVER "buy" a phone on contract. Do an outright purchase, or do do without. Don't come crying to me if you can't do anything with your phone outside of your original carrier at the end of your contract. Heard it enough here, and I'm sick of it."

Well, sometimes, you don't have a choice. It's either the contract phone or NO phone, especially in the US. Most international LTE phones don't support bands IV or XVII which are the main bands used in the US. And last I checked, ALL the big-brand US phones are sold locked because they normally go to the providers first (buying one direct tends to net you the International phone, which like I said is problematic here).

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Anonymous Coward

"The FCC Speed Test app is available on Google Play now and an iPhone app will be on the App Store soon, the commission said."

Didn't some fanboi claim all apps are available on iOS first?

No, no they are not, clearly!

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Holmes

Remember "slamming"? (It was a US thing)

I haven't heard anything about it in quite some time now, but at some point after the governement pried open the (landline) telephone system and competing long distance providers came into being, you could authorize the provider you wanted to be with to take your account away from whoever you were already with, and of course they came up with all sorts of ways to trick people into authorizing them to switch them over.

Why not let people who want to move from cell phone company A to company B at the end of their contract with company A authorize company B to force the unlocking (but not the relocking) of the phone?

A and B will both be big enough to have the political muscle to force each other to co-operate and behave, unlike individuals who have to descend through the eleventeen circles of CS hell just to talk to a human instead of a machine.

Sherlock, because Lucy Liu has given a whole new meaning to the phrase "Watson, come here, I want to see you".

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