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FCC chair proposes mobile phone unlocking requirement

The agency’s rules would make it easier for consumers to switch mobile providers and increase competition in the marketplace.

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel recently proposed that the agency require mobile providers to unlock customers’ mobile phones within 60 days of activation. 

New unlocking rules would allow consumers the freedom to take their existing phones and switch from one mobile wireless service provider to another more easily, if the consumer’s phone is compatible with the new provider’s wireless network. 

At a meeting scheduled for July 18, the FCC will vote on a proposed notice of proposed rulemaking on expanding unlocking requirements to establish a clear and uniform set of requirements for all mobile service providers.

“Real competition benefits from transparency and consistency,” said Rosenworcel. “That’s why we are proposing clear, nationwide mobile phone unlocking rules. 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.”

Executives from Puerto Rico’s three wireless providers — Claro Puerto Rico, Liberty Mobile and T-Mobile — held back from commenting on the proceeding until after the meeting.

“We hope to have more official information soon. Meanwhile, we are studying the proposal and the details,” said Giovanna Ramírez De Arellano, senior director of communications and corporate social responsibility at Liberty.

Mobile phone unlocking can increase consumer choice and competition in the wireless service provider marketplace, the agency stated.

Updated unlocking rules would give consumers more flexibility when switching service providers, increase competition by reducing consumers’ switching costs and reduce customer confusion by applying the same unlocking rules to all mobile service providers, it added.

Specifically, the notice of proposed rulemaking would seek comment on requiring all mobile wireless service providers to unlock mobile phones 60 days after the device is activated with the provider. 

The proceeding would also seek comment on whether an unlocking requirement should be applied to existing contracts or future contacts. It also seeks comment on the impact of a 60-day unlocking requirement in connection with service providers’ incentives to offer discounted phones for postpaid and prepaid service plans, as well as whether an unlocking requirement would benefit smaller providers, new entrants and resellers by increasing the number of phones available on the secondary market.

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