New FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has sent a letter to U.S. mobile trade group CTIA calling on carriers to set policies for allowing consumers to unlock their phones once their contracts are up, or else be required to via regulations.
Wheeler also wants carriers to notify consumers when their phones are eligible to be unlocked, arguing "any voluntary program would be a hollow shell" in the absence of user awareness.
Consumer groups have long called for phone unlocking to be legalized, and a White House petition on the matter racked up 114K signatures.
Large-scale phone unlocking could increase the churn rates seen by U.S. carriers (VZ, T, S TMUS), as customers no longer have the need to buy a new phone (and, if they want a subsidy, agree to a 2-year contract) to switch carriers. But it could also lower phone subsidy expenses.
Separately, Wheeler says the FCC is pushing ahead with its H Block spectrum auction, even though Sprint and T-Mobile have said they're not interested. Sprint had been expected to bid in the auction, which covers airwaves in the 1900MHz. band (good for urban/high-traffic areas).
With Sprint out of the picture, the coast is clear for Dish (DISH -0.5%) to win the auction, which is now set for Jan. 22 and has a reserve price of $1.56B. The H Block spectrum is adjacent to the (currently unused) frequencies already owned by Dish.