Despite What The FCC Says, Some Carriers Still Make It Hard To Unlock Your Phone

Over the past week, a number of headlines have trumpeted a big victory over the notoriously bad practices of big U.S. mobile carriers when it comes to unlocking phones. But one digital rights activist and researcher says that things aren’t quite as rosy as they might seem.

The backstory is this: It’s been completely legal for people to unlock their phones for months now, but mobile carriers haven’t necessarily gone out of their way to make it easy for customers to exercise their unlocking rights. On February 11, however, an agreement went into effect between the FCC and a number of top wireless carriers purporting to finally make unlocking more simple and accessible to U.S. mobile phone users. The FCC declared a win for consumers, and a number of triumphant tech press headlines followed suit.

However, entrepreneur and digital rights activist Sina Khanifar set out to see just how much of this hype about openness was reality, and what he found was not very encouraging. Only one out of the top four wireless carriers is actually adhering to all six of the terms of the FCC agreement, he found, with Sprint and T-Mobile adhering to only half of the agreed-upon action items.

Khanifar came by TechCrunch headquarters today to discuss his findings and what this means for consumers and the larger tech and mobile landscape. As for the question of how the carriers are getting away with skirting the rules they had purportedly agreed to, Khanifar said it seems to be a bit of willful ignorance on the regulators’ part:

“I don’t know how this slipped through the net. I guess the FCC wanted to be able to declare victory on this, and it doesn’t really seem like they pushed back. You know they sort of, the carriers suggested this thing, the FCC said ‘OK,’ and a year later the carriers said they had done it, and the FCC said ‘OK.'”

Watch Khanifar talk about all that and more in the video embedded above, and you can also see a handy image made by Khanifar illustrating his findings below:


Video shot and edited by John Murillo