Verizon was forced to accept a deal it didn’t like 10 years ago when it acquired a license for the 700MHz “Block C” spectrum. That’s one of the main chunks of spectrum for Verizon’s LTE network, and it’s been forced to sell all its LTE devices carrier-unlocked ever since. Now, Verizon has announced it will begin locking phones again, at least until they’re activated. Verizon says this is to combat device theft, but it seems like Verizon just wants an excuse to lock its phones down again.
The 2008 spectrum auction was a big deal for the impending rollout of 4G LTE service in the US. The 700MHz Block C bands offer excellent propagation through obstacles in an urban setting, so there was a great deal of interest in acquiring it. Thanks to a big initial bid from Google, the FCC’s open access rules were attached to the spectrum. As a result, Verizon had to agree to allow compatible devices to access its LTE network, and more importantly, it had to sell its LTE devices unlocked for use on any network. That was a huge win for consumers.
According to Verizon, shipping phones unlocked has made them a target for theft. The phones are more likely to go missing on the way to the carrier’s stores or to consumers, because thieves know they can get a higher price for unlocked phones that work on any network. Although, Verizon should simply be able to blacklist the IMEI numbers of stolen phones so they don’t work on any network.
Starting this spring, Verizon phones will ship locked to the carrier’s network, which is the same as all the other major carriers. After the phone is activated on Verizon’s network, it can be unlocked free of charge. At a later date. Verizon plans to institute a waiting period before phones can be unlocked. Supposedly, the waiting period is there to deter scammers from signing up for service using stolen identities to unlock a phone and immediately selling the devices.
Verizon’s proposed policy is still the most generous of any of the major carriers, which require a phone to be paid off before they will unlock it. However, this does appear to run afoul of the open access rules Verizon agreed to follow when it won the spectrum auction. It’s up to the FCC to enforce this requirement, and the current leadership of the agency doesn’t seem very concerned with consumer protection. In fact, chairman Ajit Pai is a former Verizon lawyer.
While Verizon’s carrier unlock policy is still better than the competition, it seems insufficient considering the open access agreement attached to the Block C spectrum. Verizon just knows the FCC won’t do anything about it.