AT&T said today that its customers shouldn't fear the law against unlocking phones because the carrier will do the unlocking for them.
As part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Library of Congress has ruled it illegal for people to unlock their own phones, a decision that has irked consumer advocacy groups and prompted a petition to the White House to throw out the ban. The law, however, won't have any effect on AT&T customers, the company said in a blog post today.
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"While we think the Librarian's careful decision was reasonable, the fact is that it has very little impact on AT&T customers," the company said in the post.
AT&T said that customers in good standing, with accounts that have been active for 60 days, and who have fulfilled the obligations of their service agreements can apply to get their phones unlocked. If AT&T has the unlock code, it will unlock phones for its customers. For customers still on their contract, AT&T said customers can pay their early termination fee to get the unlock code, if it's available.
The company has set up a site to help customers unlock their phones.
But Sina Khanifar, who represents the group FixTheDCMA, said it wasn't enough that the carriers offer liberal unlocking policies.
"The problem isn't simply whether or not carriers have a reasonable unlocking policy, but the right for people to use software to change the firmware on their phones and use them as they wish," Khanifar said in an e-mailed statement.
Khanifar noted that in some situations, AT&T customers wouldn't be able to unlock their phones. AT&T, for instance, admits that in some cases, it can't get the unlock code from the manufacturer. In those cases, it shouldn't be illegal for consumers to unlock the phones themselves, Khanifar said.
Khanifar created the petition that went to the White House. The White House supported the petition, arguing that customers have the right to unlock their own phones. The White House has said this is an issue for the Federal Communications Commission, and the FCC has said it is looking for a legislative fix.
Consumers who unlock their phones can take them to different carriers. AT&T, for instance, will accept unlocked GSM phones or devices from compatible carriers such as T-Mobile.
Updated at 12:46 p.m. PT on March 9: to include additional details on obtaining an unlock code.