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TracFone’s Laughable Unlocking Policy

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Tracfone is probably the largest prepaid wireless provider in the US, especially when you count the customers of its other companies. But, when the CITA urged wireless carriers to voluntarily create consumer-friendly unlocking policies (which went into effect this week), TracFone kept quiet and said nothing.

Last week, TracFone finally added their own unlocking policies for smartphones purchased through TracFone, Simple Mobile, Straight Talk and Net10 Wireless. But, before you get all excited, the policy isn’t exactly up to par with the other companies. Here’s what the technical legal jargon on the sites says about unlocking:

“TracFone is working with manufacturers of mobile wireless devices to pursue secure solutions which would allow for unlocking of devices without jeopardizing the security of those devices. TracFone will use commercially reasonable efforts to ensure that mobile wireless devices are capable of being unlocked domestically without compromising TracFone’s ability to protect against unlawful distribution and use of such devices and without impeding TracFone’s ability to protect its intellectual property. It will continue to keep the FCC apprised of these efforts on a quarterly basis.

Once it achieves this capability with any given device, TracFone will permit its prepaid customers, upon request, to unlock such devices one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time, payment, or usage requirements. Currently, TracFone offers a Bring Your Own Phone program which enables consumers to utilize their own wireless devices, including unlocked devices, with TracFone’s prepaid service.”

TLDR: So, basically, TracFone says that someday, maybe, you probably (they think) should be able to unlock your TracFone device. Hopefully. And they want everyone to know they intend to work really hard on it as much as they can, provided it doesn’t cost too much and isn’t too hard and doesn’t compromise their sales and profit and… well, actually, you can just bring your own device; so stop worrying about it.

Of course, TracFone’s unlocking policy used to be a lot simpler. In fact, it looked a lot like the policies sported by T-Mobile or AT&T. I guess it changed the policy because now people are starting to realize that phones CAN be unlocked and they might actually ask for it and that would just be inconvenient. You can read the old unlocking policy for yourself from this archived page.

The thing I find most interesting is that the old page clearly indicates that TracFone IS capable of unlocking devices… while the new policy says that it’s something that TracFone is still working on and cannot currently do. Seems a little fishy to me, and sounds an awful lot like the kind of fast-stepping that Sprint has been doing in regards to its prepaid brands and their inability to unlock phones as well.

What do you think? Have you ever had a TracFone unlocked?