Nonetheless, last July TracFone published an unlocking policy that was consistent with the CTIA agreement. TracFone said would unlock its phones provided:
- The TracFone device was first introduced for sale on or after January 1, 2014.
- The TracFone device has been in service for at least 12 months with paid, verifiable airtime.
- The TracFone device has not been reported lost or stolen.
- The TracFone device is deemed by TracFone to be capable of being unlocked.
"TracFone is working with manufacturers of mobile wireless devices to pursue secure solutions which would allow for unlocking of devices without jeopardizing the security of those devices. TracFone will use commercially reasonable efforts to ensure that mobile wireless devices are capable of being unlocked domestically without compromising TracFone's ability to protect against unlawful distribution and use of such devices and without impeding TracFone's ability to protect its intellectual property. It will continue to keep the FCC apprised of these efforts on a quarterly basis. Once it achieves this capability with any given device, TracFone will permit its prepaid customers, upon request, to unlock such devices one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time, payment, or usage requirements. Currently, TracFone offers a Bring Your Own Phone program which enables consumers to utilize their own wireless devices, including unlocked devices, with TracFone's prepaid service. In other words, no unlocks for now, but at some unspecified time in the future, TracFone will unlock phones for customers after one year of service."
TracFone's reasons for delaying unlocking seem bogus. I believe that by "unlawful distribution" TracFone means buying a phone at a subsidized price, unlocking it and then reselling it at a profit. Except that it's not illegal to buy, sell or unlock phones. I can understand that TracFone wants to recover their phone subsidy and make a profit on their phone and service sales. However the 12 months active service requirement should take care of that.
If you are wondering if what TracFone is doing is legal, it is. There's no law or FCC rule that requires carriers to unlock their phones. The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which went into effect 8/1/14 makes it legal for users and 3rd party services to unlock phones but it doesn't require operators to do so.
However, the voluntary unlocking agreement that the other carriers signed was created by the carriers and the CTIA only after the FCC threatened to require mobile operators to unlock phones. Hopefully the FCC will put some pressure on TracFone to come up with an unlocking policy and do it soon. I also wonder if TracFone breaking its promise to unlock phones beginning Jan 1, 2015 constitutes false advertising?
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