A few months ago, Verizon requested that the FCC allow it to lock phones to its network for 60 days after purchase to help fight fraud. Fast-forward to today and the FCC has granted Verizon’s wish.
The FCC today granted Verizon a partial waiver for the rule that it must sell its smartphones unlocked. In its filing (via Droid-Life), the FCC says that strict compliance with the original unlocking requirement is “inconsistent with the public interest because it facilitates and may even encourage fraud.” The agency goes on to agree with the group Public Knowledge, which argued that device theft and identity fraud are serious issues and that “ultimately consumers pay for these losses with increased prices.”
The FCC feels that its partial waiver will not undermine the objectives of the primary handset unlocking rule and that it better will serve the public interest. It adds that allowing phones to be locked for 60 days won’t interfere with its unlocking rule because Verizon has said that “a tiny fraction” of consumers change carriers within the first 60 days of service and those that do typically return their phones within the 14-day return period.
“After the expiration of the 60-day period, Verizon must automatically unlock the handsets at issue here regardless of whether: (1) the customer asks for the handset to be unlocked, or (2) the handset is fully paid off,” the FCC says. “Thus, at the end of the initial 60 days, the unlocking rule will operate just as it does now, and Verizon’s customers will be able to use their unlocked handsets on other technologically compatible networks.”
The one exception to this rule is that Verizon does not have to automatically unlock phones that it determines within the 60-day period have been purchased through fraud.
Verizon says that its 60-day lock on new phones will go into effect “very soon” and it confirms that after 60 days, the phones will unlock automatically. “Even with these safeguards in place, Verizon will still have the most consumer-friendly unlocking policy in the industry, and we see very little impact on our legitimate customers’ ability to use their devices,” says Ronan Dunne, EVP and group CEO of Verizon Consumer Group.
For the past several years, Verizon has sold its phones unlocked as a stipulation that was tied to its purchase of 700MHz C Block spectrum for its 4G LTE network. That’s been great for folks who like the freedom that an unlocked phone brings, including trying out other networks locally and using other SIM cards when traveling internationally. Now Verizon’s policy is going to be a bit different due to this FCC partial waiver. Customers will have to wait 60 days before their phone will be unlocked, which is a similar length as AT&T and longer than Sprint and T-Mobile, but Verizon is required to automatically unlock the phone after that period, and you don’t have to remember to specifically request it.