Consumer Advocates Want an Unlocked Phone Rule Ahead of Mint and T-Mobile Merger





Girl looking at phone

Consumer groups want phone unlocking conditions included in T-Mobile and Mint Mobile’s merger deal.

Last year, T-Mobile announced plans to purchase Mint, the prepaid wireless carrier made famous by actor Ryan Reynolds, but the deal — anticipated to be worth $1.35 billion — is still pending approval from the Federal Communications Commission.

Now Consumer Reports, Public Knowledge, Benton Institute and the Open Technology Institute at New America say the FCC should force T-Mobile to implement a short unlocking period for all devices activated on its network.

When you purchase a phone directly from a mobile carrier, it has a software code that prevents it from being used on another carrier’s network. This is considered a locked phone. An unlocked phone doesn’t have the software code, so you can take it to a different mobile carrier for service.

The groups suggestions are modeled after those Verizon adopted prior to its acquisition of Tracfone.

The advocates say that within 30 days of closing T-Mobile should notify all customers of its new unlocking policies and unlock “all devices purchased from its brands after closing and activated on the T-Mobile’s network.”

Within 60 days of activation, devices operating on T-Mobile’s network that can unlock automatically will do so. If a device can’t unlock automatically, T-Mobile will provide customers with instructions to unlock the device manually within 60 days.

The advocates also want T-Mobile to report the number of locked devices and how many of those devices can automatically unlock within 60 days of closing as well as on the first and second anniversary of the closing. By the two-year mark, “all new devices provided through T-Mobile and activated on the network must be capable of automatic unlocking.”

“Locked phones, particularly those tied to pre-paid plans, can disadvantage low-income customers most of all, since they may not have the resources to switch carriers or purchase new phones. Unlocked phones also facilitate a robust secondary market for used devices, providing consumers with more affordable options,” the advocates said in letter to the FCC earlier this week.

Consumer advocates have long argued that mobile phones should come unlocked by default, allowing users to more easily make choices about the device and service they purchase, as they can for most products,” the letter said.

Currently, T-Mobile postpaid plans require a device to have been active on the network for at least 40 days and prepaid plans must wait 365 days after being activated.

T-Mobile and Mint weren’t immediately available for comment.

The news was reported earlier by Fierce Wireless.

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