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AT&T will unlock any of its customers’ devices if their account and device meet several conditions, which are detailed in full in an AT&T company blog post headed “Bottom line: We Unlock Our Customers’ Devices”. This comes as a response to a controversial U.S. law New US Law Prohibits The Unlocking Of Cell Phones Starting Saturday [Updates] New US Law Prohibits The Unlocking Of Cell Phones Starting Saturday [Updates] A controversial new US law goes into effect on Saturday 26 January which prohibits cell phone users from unlocking their devices so they can be used with another carrier. The new law, which is overseen... Read More that prohibits cell phone users from unlocking their phone so they can be used with another carrier.

According to the announcement, AT&T “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 service agreement commitment.” If these qualifying conditions are met, AT&T will unlock up to 5 devices per account per year, as long as those devices have not been reported lost or stolen. AT&T has also posted a set of instructions and eligibility requirements for unlocking your iPhone.

Before the regulatory law, titled Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), went in effect on January 26, cell phone users could legally use software and special tools to unlock their cell phone on their own with permission from the carrier they purchased the device from. Not being able to unlock your phone (which is not the same as jailbreaking it) could mean, among other challenges, that customers must pay high roaming fees to make a call while traveling abroad, as they are unable to switch to another carrier.

Two days before the law went into effect, an online petition that called for making unlocking cell phones legal went live. As of this writing, the petition has received over a 100,000 signatures, and the White House has responded in support of the petition.


Image Credit: Shutterstock

Source: AT&T

  1. Mareo
    March 11, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    In France, all the carriers will unlock your phone if you've been a customer for at least 6 months or so. I don't know if it's an obligation for them to do so but it's quite normal that you should fully own the phone you buy.

    • RubisSong
      March 11, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      You're absolutely right!

    • Bakari Chavanu
      March 13, 2013 at 4:16 pm

      Mareo, thanks for letting us know this.

  2. Jim
    March 11, 2013 at 12:01 am

    Yeah, fulfilling your service requirement means you've owned the phone for two years. So what happens when you, for example, go to Europe for a couple of weeks and need your six month old phone unlocked so you can use a local carrier?

    • Bakari Chavanu
      March 13, 2013 at 4:14 pm

      Jim, good point. I would still suggest calling AT&T and see if they would make an exception in that case. At the same time, I think the issue you state is another reason a petition was posted in order to get rid of the law all together. Thanks for your feedback.

      • Jim
        March 13, 2013 at 4:35 pm

        Agreed. I knew someone who had to go through that. AT&T did unlock it for her but it was a pain to get someone who would do it and she had been a long term customer. No surprise but AT&T is being grossly misleading in their statement that there is no issue for people.

  3. Doc
    March 10, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    "Before the regulatory law, titled Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), went in effect on January 26" The DMCA went into effect in 2000; the Librarian of Congress's exemption for cell phone owners unlocking cell phones expired on January 26th. Big difference.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      March 13, 2013 at 4:11 pm

      Hmm, Doc, unless I misread other sources, or I'm misunderstanding you, the DMCA law applies to phones purchased after January 26. Do you have a source that says that law expired on Jan. 26? Appreciate your feedback.

      • Doc
        March 13, 2013 at 9:10 pm

        It wasn't a "law" that expired on January 26th, it was the LIbrarian of Congress's exemption for cellphone unlocking that expired on that date. The DMCA provision that made cellphone unlocking illegal went back *into* effect, as the Librarian of Congress did not renew the exemption.

        • Bakari Chavanu
          March 13, 2013 at 11:16 pm

          Okay, gotcha. Well, I'm still not clear how the law is going to be enforced if users find a way to unlock their phones using special software.

        • Doc
          March 15, 2013 at 5:05 am

          The point is, if you haven't paid off your phone and you unlock it, you can be charged with a crime under the DMCA. I don't see as anyone can enforce it; how are they going to find out you've jumped contract and unlocked your phone to use with another carrier? (I wouldn't put it past them to start eavesdropping on cell towers and looking for your phone's IMEI, though...)

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