Bottom line: We Unlock
Our Customers’ Devices

Posted by: Joan Marsh on March 8, 2013 at 10:04 am

Before I get into the legislative weeds of the DMCA (don’t worry, the acronym will be fully explained below), 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. So, why all the recent hullabaloo? As promised, let’s talk about the Library of Congress and walk through some copyright law…

Federal law makes it unlawful to circumvent technological measures employed by copyright owners to protect their property, including software.   Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the Librarian of Congress conducts a periodic review to determine whether or not users of copyrighted work – in this case device owners – will be adversely affected by this legal prohibition in their ability to engage in non-infringing uses   The Librarian can grant exemptions to the prohibition.  The Librarian had previously approved a broad exception for unlocking mobile handsets.

On October 28, 2012, as part of the periodic review, the Librarian issued a new ruling on the mobile handset exception which narrowed the unlocking exemption that it had previously granted.  The Librarian ruled that it would exempt the “unlocking” of mobile handsets from the anti-circumvention law only if a number of conditions were met. Namely, the unlocking must be initiated by the owner of the device (not a bulk reseller) who also owns the copy of the software on the device, the device must have been purchased within a specific time window, the wireless carrier must have failed to act with a reasonable time period on a request to unlock the device and the unlocking must be requested to permit connection to another carrier’s network.

This ruling was interpreted by some to mean that unlocking mobile telephones would be illegal in most if not all circumstances, even prompting a petition to the White House to overturn the Librarian’s ruling.  The White House responded to that request this week by stating that consumers should be permitted to have their devices unlocked once they have fulfilled the obligations of any existing service agreement. 

While we think the Librarian’s careful decision was reasonable, the fact is that it has very little impact on AT&T customers.  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. 

It is a pretty straightforward policy.  That means that the Librarian’s ruling will not negatively impact any of AT&T’s customers.  In fact, to make the unlocking process more convenient for our customers, AT&T has developed a website that allows iPhone customers to submit their unlock requests online.  Customers can also visit an AT&T store or call us for assistance with a request to unlock a device.

In addition to making it easier for our customers to unlock their AT&T-provided devices, we also enable them to use third-party unlocked devices on our network.  If you bring an unlocked, compatible device to AT&T’s network (that has not been reported lost or stolen), we will be happy to offer you a SIM card that enables you to obtain service from AT&T.

We believe this policy is fully consistent with the White House statement from earlier this week – namely that if a customer has paid for his or her device and is no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation, the customer should be able to use the device on another network.  We hope this clears up any confusion.

Comments (41)

That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of this policy. You guys refused to unlock my Captivate for 13 months, and you refused it for my Galaxy S III even now, saying I must wait 18 months.

When I bought my iPhone 5 at full retail, it took me three weeks to get you guys to do it, because you required faxing at specific moments, and all sorts of weird stuff. You guys refused to unlock my iPhone 4 until after my contract term expired, and even then, it took four tries to get someone who actually didn’t tell me that you can’t unlock it.

I don’t know what’s going on there, but its obvious you aren’t following that policy you describe.

Conan Kudo (ニール・ゴンパ) March 8, 2013 at 10:15 am

Here’s a summary of our experience. Someone at AT&T please read this and improve your service to decade-old customers who have every right to have their AT&T-provided, off-contract phones unlocked in accordance with AT&T policy (although we wouldn’t be surprised if this comment is moderated out and never published):
http://www.ireviewjournal.com/2012/10/poor-at-and-apple-customer-service.html

ATT Users March 8, 2013 at 12:23 pm

My issue with this whole thing, is that if a customer has an unlocked phone, is out of contract, and is in good standing, they are unable to use an unlocked phone without a data plan. I find this troubling, because every phone being sold is more and more becoming a smartphone, and therefore customers are handcuffed to a data plan they might not need. In addition, a customer no longer has the ability to carry a family plan and add data to just one line. They are again handcuffed into purchasing a shared data plan. (Think of a mom and son situation)There is very little choice a customer has anymore when it comes to rate plans other than going prepaid. The model that one size fits all is very unfair, for those of us who live in small communities, don’t need high speed data to find where the closest bathroom is or restaurant, nor do we even receive 4G coverage in our area to begin with. This all really boils down to choice and I hope a class action suit get filed eventually or someone with deep enough pockets to take on these carriers. I am sure that prepaid will end up winning in the long run at some point.

Maynard Man March 8, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Oh no Conan Kudo! I would like to look further into this regarding your unlock requests and experience. Please email the details to ATTCustomerCare@att.com with the number associated with your account and your contact number. Please also include your name in the subject line. I’m here Monday – Friday, 7:30 am – 4:30 pm CST and will be happy to assist you. Thank you. Phillisa, AT&T Social Media Manager

ATTCustomerCare March 8, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Hi AT&T –
Glad to see the policy exists for unlock. Can you please clarify one more thing:

If you are a current customer, out of term any contracts, with an iPhone who wishes to unlock it so you can use local prepaid SIMs when overseas, BUT STILL WISH TO KEEP YOUR AT&T ACCOUNT ACTIVE is this permitted under your policy?

I was trying to help a friend’s phone get unlocked, but his local AT&T store said they could unlock it, but he’d have to terminate his account and couldn’t reconnect for 6-months. Sounded weird but he was adamant that was what he was told by the rep.

Can you clarify please?

Mark M March 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm

What about unlocking the bootloaders of devices we paid full non contract price for? I have an Xperia TL and ion that are not under contract at all I would like to be able to unlock the bootloader on so I can try some custom roms. What can AT&T do for users like me in this case?

James King March 8, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Spin, Spin, Spin, you won’t unlock used iPhones purchased on Amazon, eBay or Craigs list. You demand that the requester provide proof of purchase from an “authorized” re-seller and that would only be one of your or Apples retailers. You have and Apple have the IMEI’s so you know if they are out of the contract period it should not matter if someone sold it on eBay or Amazon. As long as it is not stolen and no longer in the contract period, UNLOCK IT.

Bill Steiner March 8, 2013 at 3:52 pm

If my phone is unlocked and i upgrade the OS will it still remain unlocked?, or will i have to unlock it again. Please i will like to know ASAP.

Opara Nze March 8, 2013 at 3:55 pm

If this is AT&T’s official policy, it sure hasn’t been communicated to anybody who works in customer service.
When I tried to get my iPhone 4 unlocked after my contract was over, I was told repeatedly by AT&T in the store and on the phone to just jailbreak it. Multiple representatives told me that AT&T would not unlock my device, even though my contract was over.
I was not even trying to go to another carrier, I just wanted to be able to use my phone in another country while on a trip.

Pat Hawks March 8, 2013 at 4:10 pm

My only problem problem with AT&T and locked devices is when I travel outside US. There should be no reason for me to pay AT&T exorbitant prices for roaming when all I have to do is switch SIM cards when outside US. Sprint and Verizon both unlock their world phone internationally with the option of using their SIM if you have the $$ to pay the roaming charges.

Juan Fernandez March 8, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Hey AT&T when I sign a contract which is tied to my SSN why are u giving a locked phone at the first place?

When I signed the paper for my car loan they gave me a full car.

If somebody is not paying your bill, you are anyways sending their case to the collection agency I believe.

DONT LOCK THE PHONES.

Abraham Vat March 8, 2013 at 6:56 pm

I don’t understand the differentiation in unlock policy between the iPhone and almost any other phone out there! AT&T will not unlock my iPhone until the contract period ends. Why not unlock my iPhone and let me CONVENIENTLY use it while on vacation? I am still under the ETF and would be responsible for the ETF if I cancelled my contract!

Matt March 8, 2013 at 7:06 pm

The title of this blog is fantasy at best and deceptive at worst. Why? Because it simply isn’t true.

I picked up at ATT branded phone last year at a Microsoft retail store. Paid full price for the device as it was bought off contract, with no subsidy.

ATT refused to provide an unlock code for said device, with the CS agent telling me I had to wait two years before I could get a code. Didn’t matter that I didn’t have a contract on the device.

If you buy something new, ATT isn’t going to unlock it for you.

Adam Pav March 8, 2013 at 8:36 pm

ATT is playing games with me, for the past 3 months i’ve tried to unlock my phone through ATT costumer service, they keep telling me i have to wait two weeks in order to receive the unlock code, and when i do they are telling me that they have no records of me calling about unlocking my phone, and the process starts over. its been 4 months, at this point its pretty obvious they are trying to make it as difficult as possible for costumers to unlock phones through them. it’s very disappointed that att thinks its a game

Alex Silcock March 9, 2013 at 12:53 am

I think one problem is: if I’m still under contract, but needs to travel outside of U.S. (for a month or so). How will I be able to use my AT&T phone with a local carrier to save some money?

Xiaoyin Ma March 9, 2013 at 3:11 pm

What doesn’t make sense with this policy is that:
Why can’t I unlock my phone when travelling outside US, so that I can use a local carrier sim card and then use ATT sim card when I am back to US. I am still paying my monthly bills, am still under the contract agreement, but am not allowed to use the phone outside US by unlocking it.
AT&T’s carrier partners outside US sometimes don’t have good coverage at remote places where another local carrier has coverage. But I am stuck since I can’t use my phone since AT&T hasn’t unlocked the phone.

Why don’t you unlock the phone? Even after unlocking the phone, we are still going to pay the monthly bills for the life of the agreement(which is generally 2 years) and if someone breaks the agreement, you still charge early termination fee also. So what’s the problem in unlocking the phone then specially for people who travel outside the country?

Hary March 9, 2013 at 3:32 pm

I can verify that AT&T have unlocked devices for their customers long before the current hot topic. I was having some problems with one my devices not being allowed to use my bill the carrier googleplay option. Google did all but even helped one inch to tfobleshoot. Instead Google blamed the carrier in a factual way without proving their con luzion.

Long story short, AT&T in efforts to help me, unlocked the device (and I was still under a 2yr contract). They did more for me than Scroogle would even acknowledge.

Thank you AT&T

Galaxian NoteII March 9, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Go deal with real company that does not play evil corporate games. T-mobile will give you the unlock codes for your travels overseas, even while you are still under contract, under very less restrictions.

Martin Stanley March 10, 2013 at 8:52 am

AT&T shouldn’t lock devices, period. We are under contract and that contract includes a hefty ETF. What is the need to create an additional restriction in the form of a software lock? Why not just sell the phone unlocked?

The only lost revenue, once the contract/ETF are considered, is overseas roaming, which is a matter of convenience (paying roaming charges and keeping US number working) versus price (getting a local SIM/data plan with a new number). There’s no other change for a user with an unlocked phone and AT&T contract.

Please, stop software locking phones. There’s no need, and all it does is restrict your customers needlessly. As mentioned above, neither Verizon nor Sprint lock iPhones.

Wil Turner March 10, 2013 at 2:41 pm

This PR statement fails to include the fact that AT&T won’t unlock a phone that it calls “exclusive”. AT&T slaps that designation on any phone that they wish, including the Samsung Galaxy S III.

I bought a Nokia Lumia 900 for the no-commitment price. I could not get the Lumia 900 unlocked for six months. I bought a Samsung Galaxy S III under contract and couldn’t get that one unlocked due to “exclusivity”. I had to come out of my own pocket to pay for the unlock code on the SGS III.

I’m usually not for government intervention in business, but here the government clearly needs to force the carriers to be clear and consistent in the policies for unlocking devices.

Brenda H March 11, 2013 at 6:09 pm

I’ve been AT&T customer for a few years along with my wife and can tell you with 100% certainty that the statement that they unlock phones is completely FALSE! A number of times I’ve tried to do it when the terms of my contract were fulfilled and every time the response was the same – we don’t get the unlock codes from the manufacturer (Apple). So, the statement “..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” – is at best misleading.

Alex Kneller March 12, 2013 at 12:58 pm

I called AT&T a few weeks ago. I am NOT an AT&T customer and received the phone off Craigslist. I kindly asked if they could unlock the phone and they went ahead and did it. Within 10 minutes I was set to go. So in that sense the policy DOES work and they did it for a NON-Customer. Technically I’m a Go-Phone customer and use it as a Go-Phone BUT I needed to use it as a TMO phone that particular day because my TMO Blackberry died.

ROn Hall March 18, 2013 at 8:18 pm

After 8 (eight) years as ATT mobile account holder (currently 5 phones on my account) considering leaving AT&T since you don’t have any appreciation for my loyalty. Requested iPhone unlock for myself and my wife and was told I have to wait 4 mo months. I was also told by ATT supervisor it is Apple requirement to fully execute 2 yrs. Shame, shame..

ivan March 20, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Bottom line, You Lie. You refused to unlock an iPhone 3GS that was over A YEAR out of contract. You would not unlock it for international travel. You wanted to keep it trapped on AT&T. AT&T is a cynical bully. If you really unlocked devices…”PERIOD”…why did you make iPhone customers wait YEARS to have their devices liberated from your high tariffs?

Please proceed, AT&T.

James March 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm

There appears to be an endless supply of reasons as to why AT&T cannot unlock a phone. I took Ms. Marsh’s statement at its face value and asked one more time. This time the answer from Customer Care was that my smart phone was “exclusive” to AT&T and therefore was not eligible to be unlocked, presumably forever. Ms. Marsh hadn’t noted that reason as an exception in her statement. Another vote that additional legislation is sorely needed, because AT&T customers ARE currently being adversely affected.

Wayne April 4, 2013 at 12:43 pm

AT&T reserves the right to deny any unlock request that it concludes would result in an abuse of this policy or is part of an effort to defraud AT&T or its customers.

jailbreak 4s unlock April 5, 2013 at 5:00 am

It’s become a felony to do a non-provider unlock this year. Yet ATT told me that they will only unlock phones for the customer who is currently using the phone. This means even if you purchase a locked phone from a customer in good standing, who’s had the phone for more than the minimum time and no longer has a contract on the phone, you are out of luck. I guess if you buy an Iphone used for other than ATT use, you should plan on bringing a miniSIM with you to test that it’s already unlocked. Am I correct?

Wogga April 11, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Bottom line: At@t is a joke when it comes to unlock codes. I’ve been a customer in good standings for my original 2 year contact, than no contract, than another 2 year, purchased phones outright and requested several unlock codes never to receive a single one. It’s money to them, they probably lobbied for the DMCA to forbid unlocks in the first place.

Bye At@t I’m done being controlled. Its my phone not yours (I buy most of my phone’s outright)

Dee April 24, 2013 at 8:26 pm

AT&T just refused to unlock a device for me, even after i cited this blog the supervisor became verbally combative making outlandish claims about unlocking phones is against AT&T policy.

Because of that I just cancelled an out of contract line and the other one will be cancelled as soon as it’s term is up.

Mark April 30, 2013 at 3:43 pm

This is a lie. I own my Nokia Lumia 920. I didn’t buy it for $200 on contract. I paid full price ($550) for it. I’m on at&t prepaid. AT&T refuses to unlock my phone even though I own it. AT&T may say it will unlock unsubsidized phones but that’s a bold faced lie. I’ve called them multiple times. They said I need to call Nokia (who says it’s all on AT&T to unlock it). They said I need to be a prepaid subscriber for 6 months. They said the Sim-Codes aren’t in yet. I’ve been given the run around. They’d rather have a disgruntled, angry customer than do good business. I’m very close to complaining to the FCC.

David DeSilva May 3, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Just a follow-up to my own comment “awaiting moderation” in the event it IS actually posted..

AT&T has a policy not outlined on this blog that they are using to dent your request.
That policy is this so-called “exclusivity” clause.
They are claiming, incorrectly, that devices they sell are “exclusive” as in my case.
I can go buy my device from 2 other carriers AND unlocked from the manufacturer but they are using this as an excuse to NOT unlock my device that I paid full price for, is not under a contract and on an account that has been active more than 60 days.

According to webster, exclusivity means:
“the quality or state of being exclusive”

And “exclusive” means
“limiting or limited to possession, control, or use by a single individual or group”

There are VERY few devices that are distributed solely for AT&T that are not made available directly from manufacturers or other carriers these days. My device is not one of them being available from 3 other carriers in the states and all the canadian carriers AND the manufacturer directly!

Exclusive? only by AT&T’s definition of the word which nobody can define. Yet they hide behind this policy. So unlocking as many have pointed out is NOT available on AT&T even if you are in good standing.
If you want your paid in full devices unlocked, do not buy them from AT&T.

Mark R May 7, 2013 at 6:05 pm

At the end of June I switched to T-Mobile and wanted to bring my handsets purchased through AT&T with me.
The T-Mo order rep told me that I needed an unlock code for the handsets.
I searched the web and read many posts, including Joan’s,regarding AT&T’s willingness to give out these codes.
My own testimony is that it was no problem what-so-ever. I called AT&T customer support and told them I was going to T-Mo and want to take my handsets. The customer support rep checked that my account was out of contract and their was no financial liability. Then she looked up the codes for each of my handsets and gave them to me.

My overall experience with AT&T customer service has been excellent and I give them high marks for it.

BTW: I switched to T-Mo because of cost and nothing else. If AT&T were more cost competitive I’d have stayed.

Jerry Mindek July 9, 2013 at 4:44 pm

AT&T is the worst, seriously! That’s how I feel right now. I have an old iPhone 4 completed a two year contract and I upgraded to an iPhone 5. It’s been 30 months since I bought this iPhone 4 and I’m abroad right now but At&t refuses to unlock my phone. I mean are they serious? My friend has verizon, he has been using the phone for 12 months and they already unlocked his phone. Clearly now i know which carrier is better.

Naveen Selladurai July 10, 2013 at 3:03 am

ATT sucks. I have a phone that I upgraded to a more expensive one, but they won’t let me unlock the old phone for overseas use because it’s under contract.

jack rabbit July 22, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Absolutely bogus. It’s nearly impossible to unlock a phone even out of contract, paid for, etc. AT&T has absolutely no respect for property rights of people.

NT October 25, 2013 at 8:33 pm

if i was over seas i would not bother asking ,att.for little money,any phone can be unlocked.[subsidy password]att is like most big corporations,tell them anything to not ,unlock or find ways ,to make more money,..

r fox October 29, 2013 at 4:27 am

This is baloney. What about those of us that win devices at developer events, but don’t use AT&T? I have a Lumia 920 that you refuse to unlock because I don’t pay for your overpriced service.

I can’t WAIT for the FCC to step in and smack AT&T into place, with regards to cell unlocking. Your tactics are completely anti-consumer and anti-competitive.

Patrick Hefner November 16, 2013 at 10:56 am

It’s funny how 1 sentence can change everything “T&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. ” What if I am going out of country.
That means I will have to buy another phone. I paid for the phone and I should have rights to use it whenever I want and where ever I want but does not look like AT&T is letting me.

Raj Sojitra November 18, 2013 at 11:03 am

AT&T should unlock phones when the contracts are done. I bought a second hand AT&T phone and requested that AT&T unlock it. Although I am a former Cingular customer and gave my phone number, and all the other information AT&T requested, AT&T, through their unlocking website refused to unlock the phone. Why? The arrogance of a bloated, out of touch corporation. If you read the comments above and elsewhere, you should realize that AT&T is infuriating people with its locking and unlocking policies and to what point?

Robert Hammerslag December 8, 2013 at 7:38 am

AT&T has provided me excellent service for well over a decade. I have been out of contract for five years. After submitting my phone number, and IEMI numbers to several iPhones used in my household, ALL phones were reviewed and unlocked, one submission at a time.This company stands by its word, and is recognized as an industry leader. Thank you AT&T.

David Alexander February 27, 2014 at 4:32 am

My experience is that AT&T will only reluctantly unlock phones that are out of contract, and only after following some kind of nonsense byzantine process. One would think that if the phone is out of contract and the customer who bought it calls and asks to have it unlocked ATT would just UNLOCK IT!!!

Kevin Fry July 16, 2014 at 9:46 am

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