TracFone, FCC Handset-Unlocking Deal to Impact Millions

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday announced a settlement with TracFone Wireless to unlock handsets to millions of American consumers.

TracFone, a prepaid wireless provider, breached FCC rules by improperly certifying that it would unlock phones for customers who are enrolled in Lifeline, according to an FCC news release. Lifeline is a 30-year-old government program that provides discounts on phone service to low-income Americans. TracFone last month reported serving 4 million Americans through its SafeLink Wireless program, a Lifeline supported service.

The settlement will enable TracFone customers – including non-Lifeline customers – to choose to use the mobile devices on other networks, the FCC said.

“Unlocking of cell phones has been widely embraced by the wireless industry and by consumers across the country,” said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, which estimates at least 8 million customers could benefit from the settlement. “Today’s agreement ensures that millions of eligible TracFone customers will be able to use their phones on any compatible network they choose.” 

While TracFone is going through the process of unlocking the phones, eligible customers can reach out to the company to receive a new unlocked handset, credit for an upgrade to their device, or a partial cash refund in exchange for their locked handset, according to the FCC.

“We’ve reached an amicable agreement with the FCC,” TracFone said, declining further comment.

TracFone, a subsidiary of America Móvil, says it is the nation’s largest prepaid wireless carrier, with more than 25 million subscribers.

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