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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  • ShanTSA

    It’s against the law inSouth Africa for any carrier to lock a device to its network. USA is third world.

    • D4

      Same in china, and they must be dual sim also.. USA n UK are just money grabbing *****……

      • http://rounak.me/ Rounak Jain

        wow, it’s mandatory for a phone to have a dual sim in China?

      • http://www.facebook.com/brandon.hash Brandon Hash

        seriously though, I agree and think it’s stupid to lock the phones to a carrier in the first place

  • Tim

    I had my phone unlocked by at&t, it took about 90 minutes for it to go through. and all it took was a restore afterwards.

  • Kraken

    It is impossible to get an unlocked phone in the USA anywhere but online. Online doesn’t help if you need the phone NOW.

    I have service through a prepaid carrier and the amount I save vs. AT&T pays for even a full priced iPhone 5 in a couple of months. But, I need an unlocked phone. I broke my phone in December and went to Walmart, Best Buy, Costco, Sams Club, Radio Shack and AT&T and nobody would sell me one. None of them would even sell the phone locked without a contract. I was away for the holidays and facing a 6+ hour drive in a blizzard to get home, so I needed it now, not in 3 days if I ordered it online.

    AT&T was the worst. No one in either the store or corporate knew the policy. They told me to buy the phone, sign up for a contract and they will let you know if they can unlock it in a few days. And if they can’t they were going to charge the restocking fee.

    If I pay full price for a laptop, I can use it however I please. But paying the same $699 for a phone means its just a rental? Corruption and Greed. That’s what runs the USA now.

    • iPhone Expert

      You could just purchase an unlocked iPhone directly from Apple…or a Google Nexus 4 directly from Google…or unlocked phones from Amazon (they’ll overnight the package to you, if you desire). I fail to see the logic in your argument.

      Yes, if you purchase a phone through AT&T, it is a limited phone for two years in exchange for a substantial subsidy going toward the purchase price of the phone, e.g., a $650 iPhone for only $200. It seems incredibly fair to me. The cheaper route over the long term, however, would be to buy a SIM card from Straight Talk (or a similar prepaid service), purchase service, and buy an unlocked smartphone.

      • Kraken

        1. It broke Christmas eve. I needed it for the drive on the day after Christmas. Nobody could overnight it in that span.

        2. The Nexus 4 was sold out from it’s launch day in November through the last week in January. I checked it at least twice a day.

        3. I bought a phone online, and when I received it, it didn’t work. It took two more weeks to go through the RMA process. If it was a local store they could have swapped it for a working one.

        4. An unlocked iPhone might have been possible, but you don’t get 3g on tmobile’s network, there was no jailbreak in December, and the prevailing opinion at the time was that there might never be one. Plus I don’t like Apple after experiencing the freedom of Android.

        5. The prepaid carrier I mentioned was straight talk. I tried buying a straight talk prepaid, but my SIM didn’t work on it even though it should have been the same network. After a week, they still couldn’t figure out how to activate it. It could call 911, so I guess I wouldn’t freeze to death.

        6. The overall point is that the idea of unlocked phones being widely available is a lie. The only place to get them is online. Also, AT&T is deceptive since they must have known about the 60 day requirement mentioned in the article and lied to me to try to get me to buy service and a phone that wouldn’t work for me. Why should the 60 day requirement even apply if you pay the full unsubsidized price anyways? It exists solely so that you can’t cancel service within the 30 days they allow.

    • artis2l

      Apple store will sell you an unlocked iPhone!

  • Tre

    AT&T denied me an unlock request so I went online. I had it unlocked within 2-4hrs no problem.

  • La’VERN

    I went to ATT for assistance with an unlock code for a Black Jack II, the sales person immediately tried to BS me with the new regulation. He obviously did not know the regulation otherwise he could have assisted with my issue with an older phone. It did take 5-7 business days to unlock my old iphone 4. For the record my family has (I5, I4S, I4, I3gs, Ipod touch 4), and will want the phones unlocked when they are off contract. Luckily for me, they were all purchased before the law went into effect, but I am going to hold ATT to their statement of unlock my phones in a TIMELY manner.

  • artis2l

    You can get an unlock code on e-bay for a few bucks, not sure if you still can, I unlocked few iPhones 4 and an HTC this way.It takes 24 hours to get the unlock code.

  • technologyset

    I Unlock my iPhone 5 locked on att for $9 on FactoryUnlockimei company service