FCC wants carriers to unlock phones within 60 days of activation

Wireless providers would have to unlock all cellphones within 60 days of activation under a proposal unveiled Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission.

The new rule would allow mobile phone owners to switch to another service provider more easily, so long as their devices are compatible with the new provider’s wireless network, according to the regulator. 

“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,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement.

Beyond giving people more choices, the proposal would increase competition by reducing switching costs and confusion by applying the same rules to all providers, stated the FCC, the federal agency in charge of implementing and enforcing the country’s communications law and regulations.

As things stand, some cellphones contain software that prevents them from being used on different mobile networks even if they are technologically compatible. If one buys a phone from one provider to use on its’ network, the device may come “locked” so it can only be used with that service. 

The process of unlocking currently varies by device and carrier, according to the FCC. Some unlock devices after certain conditions are met, while others require phone owners to request instructions or to come into a physical store. 

The FCC will vote July 18 as to whether to move forward with the idea by seeking comment on the proposed requirement. The agency is also seeking input as to whether its proposed rule should apply to existing as well as future wireless contracts, along with the potential impact on the secondary phone market. 

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