FCC asked to add a special phone unlocking condition to approval of the T-Mobile-Mint deal


Per Fierce Wireless, four consumer advocacy groups, Consumer Reports, Public Knowledge, Benton Institute, and the Open Technology Institute at New America, want the FCC to place a special phone unlocking condition on T-Mobile‘s planned acquisition of Mint Mobile. Similar to a condition that was agreed on before Verizon bought TracFone in 2021, these consumer groups want T-Mobile to agree to unlock all devices 60 days after they are activated on its network. 
The consumer groups say that for devices that don’t automatically unlock after 60 days, customers should be allowed to manually unlock their devices 60 days after activation on the T-Mobile network. At that time, the wireless provider should provide its customers with “clear and easy to follow” directions on how to manually unlock their phones. The groups want this condition to take effect within 30 days after the T-Mobile acquisition of Mint and its affiliate brands have closed.

The advocacy groups have long insisted that all smartphones come unlocked by default making it easier for consumers to switch carriers. Phones locked to a carrier, especially those devices tied to a prepaid account, can impact low-income customers since they might not be able to afford to buy a new phone if they want to switch to a new wireless provider. As for postpaid accounts, T-Mobile says that it is following the unlocking requirements related to the Department of Justice’s final judgment in the deal that saw T-Mobile buy Sprint.

Based on that final judgment, T-Mobile is required to unlock devices running on a postpaid account only after a customer fulfills the term of the postpaid service contract or completes the financing plan for that particular device, or pays an early termination fee. As the consumer advocates noted in a letter to the FCC,  “The period to meet these criteria may amount to more than a year.” Remember, these groups want phones activated on the T-Mobile network to be unlocked after 60 days.
T-Mobile agreed with Ka’ena Corporation to acquire Mint Mobile and its affiliate brands, Ultra Mobile and Plum, for as much as $1.35 billion. The companies are still awaiting regulatory approval so that the deal can be closed. When finally completed, T-Mobile said that all of the brands it acquires will be run as separate subsidiaries under T-Mobile US. Actor Ryan Reynolds, who owns a minority stake in Mint Mobile, “will remain Mint brand champion” according to T-Mobile.



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