June 25, 2019
Ryan Whitwam

FCC Says Verizon Can SIM Lock Phones Again

Most phone carriers in the US lock the phones they sell to the network, ensuring you have to remain a customer for some length of time. Verizon hasn’t been able to lock any of its LTE devices because of commitments it made years back. Now, the FCC has agreed to partially waive that requirement, allowing Verizon to lock devices to its network for 60 days. 

Verizon found itself in this situation because it really wanted to get its hands on a juicy block of spectrum back in 2008. Analog TV stations had vacated the prized 700MHz C Block spectrum, and the FCC auctioned the license for use building LTE networks. Google participated in the early phases of the auction in order to push the price past $4.6 billion, triggering several open access policies. As a result, Verizon had to agree not to SIM lock LTE devices when it won the bidding at $4.7 billion. 

This never set right with Verizon, which unsuccessfully sued the FCC in an attempt to overturn the open-devices requirement. In the last few years, Verizon has started claiming that the SIM unlocked device requirement has made its phones more prone to theft during shipping. In February, it asked the FCC for a waiver so it could at least temporarily lock the devices it sells. 

The FCC just approved Verizon’s request, so you can expect Verizon-branded phones to only operate on that network at the time of purchase. Customers must activate the phoneSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce on Verizon, and then wait 60 days for it to be unlocked. The FCC mandates that this should happen automatically regardless of whether the user asks for the unlock or if the phone is still on an installment plan. 

FCC-Feature

The one exception to the unlocking requirement is when Verizon determines a handset was purchased through fraud. In that instance, it can keep the device locked and blacklist it from the network, which makes it virtually worthless. 

The LTE radios in modern smartphones are essentially universal, so this drastically reduces the functionality of Verizon’s phones out of the box. Although, it is still a better setup than you get with other US carriers. They’ll only unlock phones after you’ve completely paid them off. Verizon would probably prefer to operate like its competitors, but it’s still hamstrung by the original C Block auction rules.

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