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Sprint to provide unlock code for departing customers

As a result of class action suits in California and Florida, Sprint will now allow former customers to unlock their phones. This development comes as a settlement, not as a decision rendered by a judge or jury. According to spokespeople, Sprint wants “to avoid the uncertainties and expense of litigation.” While we don’t blame them, this decision should have little effect in the short-run. Yes, customers can have their CDMA phones unlocked when they leave Sprint, but they might find difficulty activating it with another network. As far as we know, Verizon won’t accept phones from other carriers, since they’re “not optimized to the Verizon network.”

The issue of locked cell phones has been much in the news lately as a result of Apple Inc.’s decision not to let customers modify their iPhones so that they can work on other networks besides that of AT&T. Lawsuits against both companies allege anti-competitive and unfair business practices.

Last year, a state court judge certified the California case against Sprint as a class action. The plaintiffs contended that Sprint had locked their phones with software programming locks, making it impossible or impractical for them to modify the programming of their phones or to switch cell phone providers without buying a new phone.

Now, since Sprint settled this case before judgement could be rendered against them, they’re claiming no wrongdoing. Like most other cell carriers, they say that locking phones was perfectly fine, since customers were told before they signed up. Yeah, they were told, as in the language was in the contract. Just like mandatory arbitration is in the contract. Just because you spell something out doesn’t make it right.

The fact is, consumers have little to no choice when it comes to issues like arbitration and locked phones. All the carriers do it, so it’s not like they could procure a better deal elsewhere. That’s why we’re not buying the Sprint argument.

Customers will also be supplied with information to activate non-Sprint phones with the company. However, the problem with that is unlocking them in the first place. So, in essence, this deal means little now. It could, however, set an apt precedent for future cases against cell carriers.

[Kansas City Star] via [Consumerist]