AT&T (building logo 001)

There’s been a lot of commotion lately regarding the recent expiration of a DMCA exemption that makes the unlocking of smartphones illegal. The people are talking about it, the government is talking about it, and the word is, it could lead to new legislation.

Today, AT&T issued a statement on the topic, reassuring customers that the DMCA rule has no effect on its unlocking stance. The whole thing comes off as a bit garish, as no one was really worried about that in the first place. But it does offer clarity on their policy…

Here’s an important excerpt from the blog entry, which was posted by AT&T’s Vice President of Federal Regulatory Joan Marsh:

“I want to be completely clear that AT&T’s policy is to unlock our customers’ devices if they’ve met the terms of their service agreements and we have the unlock code. It’s a straightforward policy, and we aim to make the unlocking process as easy as possible.”

It’s nice that AT&T has put this down in writing, because, as evidenced in the comments of the blog post, the carrier hasn’t always happily fulfilled unlock requests. It seems recent media attention on the subject though has pushed the policy further company-wide.

Of course, you’ll have to make sure you meet all of AT&T’s service terms and requirements before you can go arguing with your customer service rep that they have to unlock your cell phone. Luckily, they’ve included all of that in today’s statement as well.

“As we make clear on our website, if we have the unlock code or can reasonably get it from the manufacturer, AT&T currently will unlock a device for any customer whose account has been active for at least sixty days; whose account is in good standing and has no unpaid balance; and who has fulfilled his or her service agreement commitment.  If the conditions are met we will unlock up to five devices per account per year. We will not unlock devices that have been reported lost or stolen.”

So to get your phone unlocked, it must be active on AT&T’s network for 60 days, your account must be paid up, and you have to have fulfilled your service agreement—which for most folks is two years. That’s quite a few ducks to get in a row before you can demand an unlock.

It’s worth mentioning, however, that it was reported last fall that AT&T was unlocking iPhones that were still under contract. In fact, we were able to confirm this, getting them to unlock our then-in-contract phones without issue. So we’re not convinced they won’t do it if you ask.

Anyway, we’re hoping that all of this will be moot in a few years anyway. Yesterday, Senator Ron Wyden announced on Twitter that he is proposing a new bill that will make the process of unlocking your smartphone forever legal.