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Thursday marked a big day in the battle for U.S. cell phone customers, as wireless carriers bowed to FCC pressure and agreed to make it easier for consumers to unlock their handsets.
Reuters reported Thursday that U.S. wireless carriers have agreed to make it easier for customers to unlock their mobile phones in order to use them on a competitor's network, provided they have fulfilled their contractual obligations.
The wireless industry came under pressure from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in recent months, but Chairman Tom Wheeler told Congress that a deal has been struck with major carriers Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile US.
That deal will also make the unlocking process much easier for consumers -- carriers will now be required to notify customers when their handset is eligible for an unlock via text message, and could include many prepaid phones. Carriers will also be required to process or deny requests for unlocking within two business days.
While consumers abroad enjoy the ability to purchase unlocked handsets and freely move between wireless carriers at will, the majority of U.S. devices are sold on a subsidy, locked to the provider's network to guarantee customers won't jump ship. However, carriers often make it difficult to get a device unlocked even after a two-year agreement has been honored -- particularly for expensive smartphones like Apple's iPhone.
Worse yet, the Library of Congress made it illegal for consumers to unlock their handsets on their own, a thorny situation that paved the way for the FCC to get involved and work out a solution at the carrier level.
Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter