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FCC Forces TracFone to Honor Its Agreement to Unlock Customer's Phones

TracFone, which includes the brands TracFone, NET10, Straight Talk, Total Wireless, Page Plus, Telcel America, Simple Mobile and SafeLink, has reached an agreement with the FCC that requires it to unlock customer's phones and to buy back any phones it's unable to unlock. The agreement came after the FCC found that TracFone failed to comply with the consumer protection and service quality rules that Lifeline service providers are required to follow.

Lifeline operators like TracFone's SafeLink can either provide proof that it meet all the FCC's customer protection or service requirements or they can certify that they comply with the CTIA's Consumer Code. TracFone used the CTIA Code option, which, among other things, requires that beginning Feb 15, 2015, operators would disclose their unlocking policies to customers and unlock phones for customers who meet certain requirements. TracFone failed to meet the Feb 15 deadline for publishing an unlocking policy and for unlocking customers phones. In fact, TracFone is still refusing to unlock phones for customers.

The FCC took enforcement action against TracFone for its failure to follow the unlocking provisions of the CTIA Code. To settle with the FCC, TracFone has agreed that:

  • By September 1, 2015, TracFone will provide clear notifications to its customers about its handset unlocking policy. All eligible consumers will get at least one text message telling them that they are eligible, and consumers can go to the TracFone website to determine eligibility, request pre-paid mailers for trade-in of locked phones, and obtain other relevant information.
  • By September 1, 2015, eligible non-Lifeline TracFone customers can trade in their old device for a cash refund of the trade-in-value of the handset.
  • By May 1, 2016, as TracFone begins to launch handsets capable of being unlocked, eligible nonLifeline TracFone customers can trade in their old device for an upgrade credit toward a new, unlockable handset.
  • By May 1, 2016, TracFone must provide new Lifeline customers with phones capable of being unlocked. Existing, eligible Lifeline customers may request a replacement unlocked handset.
  • TracFone will also provide a $400,000 per month offset to the Universal Service Fund until it provides unlockable handsets to new Lifeline customers.
  • By December 31, 2016, all phones launched by TracFone must be capable of being unlocked.
  • Refunds, upgrade credits and replacement handsets will be available under the program through at least June 2018.
The agreement applies to customers of all TracFone brands including TracFone, NET10, Straight Talk, Total Wireless, Page Plus, Telcel America, Simple Mobile and SafeLink.

The upgrade credits part of the agreement is interesting in that it requires TracFone buy back customer's old phones if TracFone is unable to unlock them.

To qualify for an unlock or buy back a customer must:

  • Submit an unlocking request to TracFone
  • Have used the phone on a TracFone service for 12 or more months. Deployed military personnel are exempt from the 12 months of service rule.
  • The phone must have either be a model launched after Feb 11, 2014 or a phone first activated by the customer after Feb 11, 2015
  • The phone must be in working order and not be reported lost or stolen or associated with fraudulent activity.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like TracFone will have to pay very much for the phones it buys back. The agreement requires a payment of either 20% of the phone's original retail price OR the phone's current value on BuyBackWorld.com, whichever is greater. Tracfone estimates the buyback price as $5 for Lifeline phones, $5 to $10 for feature phones, $20 to $40 for non-flagship Androids and $100 for the Samsung Galaxy S4. Still with over 25 million customers, the buybacks could end up costing TracFone quite a bit.

This is the second time this year that TracFone has been sanctioned by a government agency for anti-consumer practices. In January, the FTC fined TracFone $40 million for throttling or cutting off users data on plans that were advertised as including unlimited data.

I'm happy that the FCC took this action against TracFone, which was obviously not living up the unlocking policy it agreed to follow as a condition of receiving public finds to provide Lifeline service to low-income Americans. I'm hoping that the FCC considers similar action against Sprint, another Lifeline provider that's refusing to unlock many of its GSM capable phones like the iPhone 4s, iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S5.

Source: FCC

Related posts:
FTC Orders Straight Talk, NET10, Simple Mobile and Telcel America to Refund $40 Million to Users Whose Data Was Throttled or Cut Off
Virgin Mobile's Disapointing New Phone Unlocking Policy
Updated: Get Your Prepaid Phone Unlocked For Free - US Operator's Prepaid Unlocking Policies

47 comments:

Comment Page :
  1. Lol, why would you want a tracfone unlocked. Not like they are flagship phones.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. TracFone includes the NET10 and Straight Talk brands which sell flagships like the iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S5. Even non-flagships are more useful and worth more if unlocked.

      Delete
    2. Because people paid money for those phones.

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    3. Jason in PortlandJuly 2, 2015 at 4:46 PM

      Even then, Tracfone (TF) tried to limit phones to one particular brand, so a phone sold for TF wouldn't work on NET10 (or vice-versa), even if it was the same exact phone model. Additionally, many have used sites like this to discover what network their TF uses, and might want to use it on a different (non-TF) MVNO. Some say it works (see comments about Verizon network phones), but there's no guarantee.

      I have a feeling the ultimate answer could be an end to ultra-subsidized phones TF and its sister providers offer.

      Delete
    4. I feel sorry for people who bought iphones from straight talk expecting to use them somewhere else. If you wanted an unlocked phone you should have bought one in the first place. geez loueez

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    5. Don't cry for me. I bought a ST iPhone 5 and used it on PagePlus, Selectel, Ptel, T-Mobile and AirVoice. Never on ST. And I saved $250 on the phone, a lot of money.

      Delete
  2. I have a Straight Talk Huawei Pronto can I get it unlock free? I only had it for a month.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unless you are in the military and deployed oversees you will have to use the phone on Straight Talk for 12 months before you are eligible for an unlock.

      Delete
  3. 12 months is too long. Other prepaid carries only 3 to 6 months. FCC need to force them to reduce that down.

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    Replies
    1. 12 months is the maximum allowed by the CTIA Code. Sprint, U.S. Cellular and T-Mobile also require waiting 12 months.

      Delete
    2. That is total BS.. I have been a tracfone customer for 10 years and yes I update my phones as times and phones changed.. I should be able to get my phone unlocked for being a customer for tht long. I don't care how old the phone is...

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  4. A lot of the Verizon CDMA tracfone/ST/Net10/etc phones work right out of the box on other MVNOs. I just activated a Net10 Optimus Fuel on BYO.

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  5. FCC should require all phone carrier of prepaid to unlock all phone. Customer must buy prepaid phone outright and paid for service up front. A customer is a free-agent; they can go anywhere they choose. Verizon 4GLTE phones come unlock out of the box. This should be standard. If I use T-Mobile or AT&T I make sure use my phone is unlock. It’s like you buy a new car and you must service your car here. I do not support Tracfone.

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    1. No thanks. I don't mind paying less for a locked phone that has a lower, subsidized price. If all phones were sold unlocked, many, many people would pay more; i.e, the real price.
      And why in the world should Tracfone have to unlock a Safelink phone? They give you a free phone, and you want to be able to use it with their competitor? Why? Makes no sense that they would just throw their money away. This would end free phones and hurt the people that the government program is really trying to help.

      Delete
    2. What wrong with paying full price for a phone that is unlock. I don't have a problem with that. The Safelink phone they give you is worth no more then 20 dollars. Its basic phones. They not giving you a iphone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S6. If you have the money to put tha basic phone you got from Safelink on a another carrier and pay for it yourself more power too you. Prepaid phones if I pay for it you should be able to do what the hell I want with it. That is where im going with this. That my choice and everybody should have that choice too.

      Delete
    3. Nobody is talking about taking away your choice to buy a full-priced, unlocked phone. The post said the FCC should force all carriers to unlock their phones.
      That would take away the choice for people to pay a lower price for a phone that was locked for 3-12 months. It would not affect you at all, so where's the beef?

      Delete
    4. The problem is there should be no subsidized period. That the problem from the get go.There is no need to lower the price. If you can't afford to buy then too bad. Phone need to be sold unlock and the customer once paid for it should be able to go with any carrie he or she choose.

      Delete
    5. **No thanks. I don't mind paying less for a locked phone that has a lower, subsidized price. If all phones were sold unlocked, many, many people would pay more; i.e, the real price.
      And why in the world should Tracfone have to unlock a Safelink phone? They give you a free phone, and you want to be able to use it with their competitor? Why? Makes no sense that they would just throw their money away. This would end free phones and hurt the people that the government program is really trying to help.**

      How's it like being banned from the Howard Forums? You imbecile.

      Delete
    6. "The post said the FCC should force all carriers to unlock their phones."

      I have to agree.

      Delete
    7. Verizon Wireless phones are factory unlock from the get go. They are in business and making money. So It has nothing to due with lower price or not. or unlock or not. If you offer a cheap plan and good service people is going to come to you regardless if yours Verizon or Metropcs.Only idiots don't mind paying for a lock phone and nothing wrong with paying for the real price because they going to come down anyways after they are release after a period.

      Delete
    8. Verizon phones are unlocked on the GSM side as part of a spectrum deal with FCC. Their prepaid phones are locked on the CDMA side for 6 months - they are subsidized. I like to save money, and a subsidized phone is a smart way to do it if I am going to use a carrier anyway.
      Why do you think it's smart to take away that option? You can always pay more if you want.

      Delete
    9. You like to save money. lol. you don't realize. you actually end up paying more in the long run.say for example to decided to go with sprint prepaid. you got yourself the htc 510 for 50 dollars. half of the real price. and sign up for the 45 dollars plan. so the 95 to start up. and 45 every month there after. 45x12=540 dollars for 1 year of service. if that phone was unlock to can sign up with Ting and save a bunch of money. Verizon prepiad phones are gsm unlock you just need to know how to get into the hidden menu to enable it. I have a moto e from verizon on tmobile right now.

      Delete
    10. Thanks for making my point for me: You bought a subsidized phone from Verizon Prepaid and saved money. If the unlocking freaks had their way, you would have paid a lot more for the Moto E. Plus, nobody in their right mind should buy a Sprint Prepaid HTC 510 to use on Ting now, so that was just a strawman argument. I hope you like the Sprint FEC - another unintended consequence of unnecessary interference with free enterprise. My Sprint Prepaid LG is working fine on RingPlus, but the FEC killed that way to save money. Many people have bought a subsidized T-Mobile Prepaid phone over the years. I have saved plenty buying those on sale. They work fine with Tmo MVNOs, and used to be easy to unlock through Tmo before the FCC started throwing their weight around.

      Delete
    11. The FCC action against TracFone is a result of TracFone not honoring the agreement it made as a condition of getting Federal Lifeline funds of $9.25 per customer, per month. It doesn't signal that the FCC is going to require all phones to be sold unlocked.

      Locked subsidized phones aren't going away. The CTIA code permits carriers to require you to use their service for up to twelve months before they will unlock your phone. That's more than enough time to recover any subsidy I've seen on prepaid phones.

      The FCC had nothing to do with the Sprint FEC. It's something the incompetents at Sprint came up all by themselves and hurts Sprint MVNOs and ultimately Sprint itself by driving customers to other networks to avoid uncertainty and hassle. Nobody has to use Sprint and arbitrarily limiting the supply of used phones that work on Sprint MVNOs means fewer people will.

      Delete
    12. Tom Wheeler, one month on the job in 11/13 at FCC pushed the carriers to implement phone unlocking.The CTIA rushed a "voluntary" set of rules and in 12/13 got sign-off from FCC. CTIA included them in the CTIA 'Consumer Code for Wireless Service.' The agreement had various quotas and deadlines, and the 4 big carriers signed on. Then things seemed to hit the fan. AT&T iPhones that could be unlocked for a few dollars cost as much as $100. T-Mobile changed their prepaid phone unlock policy twice, each change more restrictive than the last. Sprint took a long look at their policies, and eventually implemented the FEC as one outcome of their larger review. AT&T has lightened up recently, but not T-Mobile. Sprint has fixed a lot of the problems with FEC, but not all of them.
      Send a thank-you card to Tom Wheeler if you are happy with the status quo.
      I am not. The new T-Mobile unlocking policy for phones used on Prepaid is much more strict. I spent extra money to unlock a couple of AT&T iPhones. And I just happened to get lucky on Sprint, getting through a loophole just before FEC slammed it shut. No more Sprint phones for me.

      Delete
  6. I must say that I feel very sorry indeed for America Movil and Mr. Slim. They get used to doing business one way... bribery, intimidation, or just plain lack of consumer protection laws and enforcement agencies (Lack of competition in telecommunications in Mexico is estimated to cost the economy 25 billion a year--OECD Jan 30,2012 Review).

    And then, unsuspecting, they come to the U.S. to continue the Rip-Off, when BAM!, they get slapped with all these Multi-Million Dollar Fines and Consent Agreements and stuff ... it's JUST NOT FAIR, DARN FCC! What's a greedy, plutocrat shyster to do?

    Well, I for one, won't stand idly by. I say, Let's start a Gofundme account to end Mr. Slim's agony and suffering (all for nothing but a few shady and dishonest business practices, fer Chrisake). Not only that, I'm porting back over to Straight Talk... getting a little bit tired of Cricket's straight forward deals, honest practises, and helpful CS! I hereby pledge my entire share of the $40 million settlement ($3.14, or whatever it ends up being...) to the Fund!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. oh, Mr. Trump, you must really hate mexicans who make more money than you.

      Delete
  7. The Fcc betrayed America. Most people won't participate and the few that will are getting a 80% haircut. A class action would still cheat consumers but at least America Movil would pay more

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  8. for it's failure to follow

    FOR IT IS FAILURE TO FOLLOW

    ReplyDelete
  9. It is what it is. It will be what it will be...

    ReplyDelete
  10. Typical Carlos Slim hubris. I'm happy to see any corporation that behaves this way get slapped down like a mosquito.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. sorry, Mr. Trump, but there are mexicans like Carlos Slim who make mucho mucho mucho much more money than you and who can slap both you & the incompetent tiny-FCC-penalty down like an annoying worthless mosquito.

      Delete
    2. Slim didn't get slapped down. The FCC basically didn't do anything other than a press release.

      Delete
  11. Geez, now WHY would Tracfone make it such a strenuous, arduous task to JUST Unlock one of their phones??? ... Possibly, so that the now WISER customers will be able to take their PAID-FOR phones to a BETTER operator...

    ReplyDelete
  12. If a MVNO ( Tracfone) or Operator ( Sprint) has to resort to LOCKING your phone(s) indefinitely in order to force you to stick with their service, we'll that's ALL you need to know about their service! Yikes!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why are you buying a subsidized phone from tracfone if you don't want to use the service. No one would buy a att phone cause they want to use verizon service with it.
      Makes no sense.

      Delete
    2. @ ANONYMOUS 1:46 PM... Perhaps those people did NOT know the level of QUALITY of Tracphone service UNTIL they actually utilized it?

      Delete
    3. Perhaps they is not to smart people then. Walmart has a return policy.

      Delete
  13. Its like if I buy a car and the dealer tells me you have to bring your car to Honda for everything. Oil change , tune tup , tire change and they can charge whatever they likes becasue they can. Do you think that is fair. Same thing apply here on cell phones just like cars.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Incomplete analogy. What if Honda offered you an extra $1,000 discount to get all of your service under the 3-year basic warranty done at a Honda dealer? If you agreed, the car would be "locked" so that only the dealer could service it. The dealers would not charge you more then their regular prices for service. After 3 years Honda would "unlock" the car so you could go anywhere for service.
      Some people would take this deal. I would.

      Delete
    2. extended warranty are for dummies. Learn how to fix your own cars and trucks. save yourself money and stop giving to crooks. I never let anyone service my cars but myself.

      Delete
    3. If you think the analogy was about an extended warranty then you should not be working on any modern car.

      Delete
  14. By the time they have to unlock them, all the phones will have the kill switches so Slim can render them useless anyway if he so chooses.

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  15. I have to agree extended warranty on anything is for stupid people. I never buy extended warranty ever in my whole entire life. Everytime i buy something from Best Buy the sales people always try to sell me an extended warranty and I always say no or anywhere else. My philosophy always have been if you can't fix it then get rid of it and get yourself another one. I laugh at those people who get suckered in all the time buy an extended warranty for electronics. Fools. Absolutely Fools.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I have a smartphone with Tracfone that gives a problem and it is practically new!!!!! I send it in for warranty service for them to in return send me what they are calling a new phone!!!!

    Turns out that the phone they send is a badly refurbished phone and to top it off they have put a cheap non oem battery in the phone!!!!

    When i turn it on, i notice the phone drains the battery 4X faster than the one i sent in for service and that is with settings made exactly as original phone!!! do they give another new phone?

    NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!

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  17. Another reason to avoid Tracfone. There policies are horrendous.

    ReplyDelete
  18. So Safelink gets $9.25 a month if I sign up with them, but I have to use a phone that is worth only $5? Why is that? Why can't I activate a Nexus 6 on Safelink and use that? Better yet, why can't I get a $9.25 a month credit to use on a prepaid service like T-mobile that will not stop me from activating the unlocked phone of my choice? This is not a plan to help poor Americans get phone service, it is a handout of taxpayer money to telecommunications giants who provide little or no service to the poor Americans who are supposed to be receiving help.

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