FCC Permits Limited Wireless Handset Locking

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has agreed to grant a partial waiver of its rules that block cellular service providers from “locking” mobile handsets that they provide.

Until the practice was banned by the FCC in 2007, device locking was implemented by wireless carriers to prevent handset owners from switching wireless service providers and using their equipment on alternative wireless networks. However, under the terms of an Order issued in late June, wireless carrier Verizon will be permitted to lock a customer’s handset for 60 days from the date that it becomes active on Verizon’s wireless network.

The FCC’s action was in response to a petition filed by Verizon in February to allow the company to implement a temporary 60-day lock on the handsets it provides. According to Verizon, the temporary lock would “allow it to reduce identity theft and related forms of handset fraud,” such as using a stolen identity to fraudulently obtain a handset that is then sold on the black market or obtaining a handset and then failing to pay for it.

In its Order, the FCC found that the limited waiver of the unlocking requirement requested by the petitioner would serve the public interest by helping to discourage identity theft and other forms of fraud. While the FCC’s ruling applies specifically to Verizon, it is expected that other wireless carriers will seek the same limited waiver.

Read the Commission’s Order granting a partial waiver of its locking requirements.

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