Purchased a phone after January 26, 2013? If you live in the U.S., unlocking that device without your carrier's permission is technically against the law. However, major U.S. wireless carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon) have now agreed to implement new rules that could make legal phone unlocking more straightforward—sort of.
As part of those rules, carriers will "unlock . . . or provide the necessary information to unlock" devices upon request once a customer's contract ends, if that customer pays off his device, or if he cancels his subscription and pays an early termination fee. Carriers will also let folks unlock pre-paid devices, though only if the unlocking request is made within a year of the device being activated.
In addition, the rules mandate that carriers unlock "eligible devices" within just two business days without charging a fee. And when a device becomes eligible for unlocking, carriers will be required either to "clearly notify" the customer or to unlock the device automatically.
CITA, the nonprofit organization that represents the wireless industry, outlines the rules here. It plans to "recommend that this set of principles be included in the CTIA Consumer Code for Wireless Service." Once that's done, CITA says carriers will "move quickly to implement these principles."