AT&T Defends its Unlocking Policy

unlock iphoneAT&T has published a statement on its website clarifying its unlocking policy, saying that the recent ban on cellphone unlocking “will not negatively impact any of AT&T’s customers.”

The unlocking ban came into effect January this year, under which unauthorised unlocking became a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), punishable with a fine of up to $500,000.

AT&T’s statement starts with a detailed explanation of the conditions under which unlocking is permissible:

[T]he unlocking must be initiated by the owner of the device (not a bulk reseller) who also owns the copy of the software on the device, the device must have been purchased within a specific time window, the wireless carrier must have failed to act with a reasonable time period on a request to unlock the device and the unlocking must be requested to permit connection to another carrier’s network.

AT&T further clarifies:

[I]f we have the unlock code or can reasonably get it from the manufacturer, AT&T currently will unlock a device for any customer whose account has been active for at least sixty days; whose account is in good standing and has no unpaid balance; and who has fulfilled his or her service agreement commitment.  If the conditions are met we will unlock up to five devices per account per year. We will not unlock devices that have been reported lost or stolen.

Over at USA Today, Sina Khanifar, lead activist behind the White House petition, commented on AT&T’s statement, saying that the carrier’s policy doesn’t go far enough. On the requirement of an unlock code before processing an unlock request, Khanifar says:

But what if they don’t have an unlock code? If someone buys a phone from AT&T for which AT&T doesn’t have an unlock code, how are they supposed to get it unlocked?

On the minimum 60 day active period:

Why does the account need to have been active at least 60 days? How about customers who travel internationally within the first 60 days of a contract and want to avoid exorbitant roaming fees? And finally, how about a consumer who buys an AT&T phone second hand to use on the T-Mobile network and has no relationship with AT&T?

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If AT&T doesn’t have the unlock code, if the customer hasn’t been on contract for at least 60 days, or hasn’t fulfilled his or her service agreement commitment, then they don’t get an unlock code. And finally, all this depends on how quickly the unlock codes are delivered – AT&T states on their iPhone unlocking portal that requests may take 5 to 7 business days. How about consumers who need their phones unlocked quicker than that.

Thankfully, the White House has responded to the “make cellphone unlocking legal again” petition, promising action. Just yesterday, a bill was introduced by Democrats and Republics that aims to re-legalize unlocking. With support from so many sections of the government, we hope that this ban doesn’t stay for long.

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