FCC Reaches Agreement with TracFone to Unlock Mobile Phones

FCC Reaches Agreement with TracFone to Unlock Mobile Phones
Image: Pixabay
July 1, 2015

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has reached a settlement with TracFone Wireless, Inc. to provide unlocking of TracFone handsets to millions of American consumers.

The Bureau's investigation found that TracFone violated agency rules by improperly certifying that it would unlock phones for its customers enrolled in the FCC's Lifeline program. To settle this violation, the company has agreed to transition all of its phones to be unlockable, thus allowing both Lifeline and non-Lifeline customers the freedom to choose to use their devices on other networks.

In the interim, while TracFone is transitioning to unlockable phones, eligible TracFone customers will be entitled to other benefits under the settlement. Eligible customers can contact the company to receive a new unlocked handset, credit for a handset upgrade, or a partial cash refund in exchange for their locked handset.

"Unlocking of cell phones has been widely embraced by the wireless industry and by consumers across the country," said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau. "Today's agreement ensures that millions of eligible TracFone customers will be able to use their phones on any compatible network they choose."

The Bureau's investigation found that TracFone repeatedly certified in official agency filings that it would abide by a wireless industry code of conduct, which went into effect on February 11, 2015, and required handset unlocking for the company's customers enrolled in the FCC's Lifeline program, but failed to live up to that commitment.

Under this settlement, TracFone agreed to provide remedies for consumers with locked phones and put in place plans to market only handsets that are capable of being unlocked by all its consumers, including both customers enrolled in the FCC's Lifeline program and those not enrolled in the program. The Enforcement Bureau worked closely with the FCC's Wireless Bureau on this effort.

The Bureau estimates that at least 8 million TracFone customers could benefit from the settlement. With an average benefit of $10 per handset, the value of this settlement to consumers is expected to be in the range of $80 million. In addition, the company will provide a projected offset of $3.2 million to the Lifeline program tied to how quickly its unlocking program becomes active. Handsets are considered to be "locked" if they contain software that prevents them from being used on other networks.

TracFone customers who would like to request unlocking of their phone, find out more about the agreement, eligibility requirements or benefits under the program should contact TracFone at 1-888-442-5102.

Customers can also visit the FCC website or email tracfoneunlocking@fcc.gov for further information. Customers are advised that any inquiries received by the FCC at this email address will likely be forwarded to TracFone for resolution.