FCC says Verizon can start locking phones again

Most of the mobile phone carriers in the United States lock the phones sold by their network, to ensure that purchasers remain customers for a long time. However, Verizon made a commitment many years ago to no longer lock any of its LTE devices. But now, on the company’s request, the FCC has agreed to soften that requirement, hence permitting Verizon to lock mobile phones to its network for 60 days. 

In February 2019, Verizon announced that it was planning to approach the FCC for a waiver regarding the restriction placed on it because of its purchase of the 700MHz block back in 2008. This purchase prevented Verizon from SIM-locking mobile phones after selling them. Verizon wanted to have a new 60-day carrier lock imposed on its mobile devices, claiming that it would help the carrier in fighting fraud. And now the FCC has announced that it is going to grant that waiver to Verizon.

In 2008, Verizon consented to the specific usage terms and conditions when it purchased the 700MHz C Block spectrum for its LTE in an auction. Verizon agreed that it would allow its mobile phones to be open for use on other networks at all times. This rule, known as the open-platform rule, was included on the request of Google.

The rule explicitly requires the buyer of the spectrum to not “configure handsets it provides to prohibit the use of such handsets on other providers’ networks”. Unlike the case ofAT&T or T-Mobile phones, where people have to fulfill specific criteria in order to get a mobile phone unlocked for use elsewhere, Verizon’s phones were to remain unlocked.

The partial waiver granted by the FCC allows Verizon to SIM-lock a user’s mobile phone for 60 days from the date of its activation on Verizon’s network. Once the 60 day period is over, Verizon should automatically unlock the customers’ phones whether the customers ask for mobile unlocking or not. In addition to this, Verizon will have to unlock the handset even if it hasn’t been paid off. After the unlocking of the phone, the users will be able to use a network carrier of their choice. 

“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. 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.”

However, the FCC has also mentioned an exception regarding the unlocking of phones. This exception permits the Verizon to keep phones purchased through fraudulent methods locked even after the completion of the 60-day period.

“The only exception to the rule will be that Verizon will not have to automatically unlock handsets that it determines within the 60-day period to have been purchased through fraud. As a result, granting the 60-day waiver request is consistent with the policy underlying the unlocking rule, and the rule will continue to promote competition in the handset market place. Indeed, grant of the requested waiver will actually promote the public interest by helping Verizon protect against device theft and fraud. This relief will reduce the black-market value of devices acquired through fraud and thereby reduce the incentive to commit fraud to acquire the devices in the first place.”

Verizon welcomed the decision of the FCC to grant the waiver, calling it as a “win for consumers”. Verizon hoped that this move will help the company to counter mobile fraud.

“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.” The statement by Verizon read.

However, it is still to be known when these new rules are going to be implemented in the United States. Verizon didn’t provide a schedule for implementing these changes and simply stated that they will come into effect “very soon.”