Independence Day: You Can Now Unlock Your Phone from Your Carrier

Stuck with an unsatisfactory carrier but don't want to shell out for a new phone? Starting today, you can unshackle yourself from your provider, thanks to an agreement made between service providers and the FCC effective today (Feb. 11).

Both prepaid and postpaid subscribers are eligible for unlocking their devices, as long as those on contracts have paid off their plans. It will be free to unlock your phone, as long as you go to the carrier it's locked to. 

MORE: What Are No-Contract Phones?

Most handsets are locked to a wireless provider, unless you specifically bought an unlocked device. Carriers do this to prevent devices they provide special deals on from being used with rival providers. Freeing your phone from a specific carrier means you'll be able to use it with another compatible network, either by switching out the SIM card or using special software to program the phone.

As of now, all four major carriers in the United States (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon) offer instructions and guidelines for unlocking your device. They also have to, according to the terms of the agreement, notify customers when their handsets are eligible for unlocking, respond to unlocking requests within two business days and unlock devices for deployed military personnel.

As long as you meet the requirements, such as having paid the service commitments and having no record of fraudulent activity on your device, it should take just a few simple steps and some time with customer service before you're liberated from your carrier's chains. 

Staff writer Cherlynn Low wants a new smartphone for cheap. Follow her @cherlynnlow. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide on Facebook.

Cherlynn Low

Cherlynn is Deputy Editor, Reviews at Engadget and also leads the site's Google reporting. She graduated with a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University before joining Tom's Guide and its sister site LaptopMag as a staff writer, where she covered wearables, cameras, laptops, computers and smartphones, among many other subjects.