AT&T has announced plans to legally unlock customer smartphones at the end of their contract period. The announcement follows a ruling by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress, which has made the practice of customer-based smartphone unlocking illegal.
AT&T Wireless made the announcement just one week after a petition with more than 100,000 signatures has forced President Obama and the FCC to review the Library of Congress' decision.
The new unlocking procedure at AT&T Wireless will go into effect if the customer has no unpaid balance and if their contract is in "good standing" with the company.
AT&T in the past has made exceptions to its own policy, allowing customers to unlock devices sometimes after 90 days of activity. In several cases, Apple CEO Tim Cook personally asked AT&T to unlock smartphones for a few customers.
When AT&T owned exclusive rights to the Apple iPhone, the company outright refused to unlock the devices, a fact that led to numerous black market unlocking procedures.
Under current laws, $200 per device carrier fines, jail time, and federal fines can be applied to customers who illegally unlock their smartphones.
It should be noted that wireless carriers have always recuperated the cost of customers jumping ship early by charging early termination fees up to $350. Now a company can charge those fees AND still retain control of the device the customer just paid in full to retain.
With customers outraged over the current state of smartphone unlocking laws, several bills have already been introduced to Congress that will undo the ban and make smartphone unlocking permanently legal. However, current bills much like AT&T's announcement only focus on end of contract unlocking.
With smartphone unlocking outside of a carrier now considered illegal, nobody has come forth with a viable long-term unlocking procedure for the iPhone 5.
AT&T Wireless does allow customers to bring their own unlocked iPhone devices to its network on a month-by-month payment basis.