*iStock photo
*iStock photo

It’s a victory for the consumer.

The Regulatory Authority ruled that carriers “shall unlock cellphones for their customers and former customers in good standing and owners of eligible free of charge and the carrier shall bear full cost for the unlocking process”. 

The move will help promote the freedom of movement between carriers, and with phone owners being allowed to take their number with them when they switch service providers, should help make the market more competitive.

Only two members of the public submitted responses to the Bermuda Regulatory Authority with regard to the unlocking of cellphones and both were in support of it. 

One person wrote: “I am absolutely in favour of unlocking cellphones. As a Bermudian who travels all over the world on behalf of the UN/ICAO, having an unlocked cellphone is essential for me.”

The RA also received responses from CellOne and Digicel.

CellOne was in favour of unlocking all cellphones while Digicel said phones that were subsidized by the carrier should remain locked. 

CellOne said in its report to the RA that the unlocking of phones and data services would allow “customers to move freely between service providers”. It added this would help the carriers to “compete on service quality and price to retain customers”.  

Digicel said by keeping subsidized cellphones locked, they would be able to offer more services. 

It said by doing so its customers would be encouraged to take up “more services” and create more economic activity.

The RA argued that “whilst initially, economic activity might increase (more take-up of handsets at lower prices) so long as the devices remain locked into a particular network, in the long term, competition will be stifled.”

Digicel also said that most phones have a short lifespan before customers want a new model with more up-to-date features. The company said most customers switch carriers for this reason and it will limit the impact of locked phones on number portability. 

The RA said: “It may well be the case that some consumers switch providers for discounts and special deals on handsets, it is also the case that customers will switch to the quality of service, different package offerings, and other reasons not specific to the handset. The introduction of number portability without cellphone unlocking could create a barrier preventing consumers from taking advantage of their ability to port their number.

“The RA takes the view that unlocking cellphones will give the consumer the freedom to take advantage of the ability of number portability while competition is promoted within the market.”

CellOne also wanted the digital branding removed from a phone when it was unlocked, something the RA disagreed with. 

It said: “The RA is not convinced that digital branding on a cellphone will in someway hinder competition even in the circumstance where an unlocked cellphone is being used with a  ported number to a network other than the one which it was digitally branded.” 

RAB press release:

Keeping a promise it made to the consumers of Bermuda last year, the Regulatory Authority has announced that with effect on March 1, all mobile phone carriers operating in Bermuda will be required to unlock cellphones on request.

This is another step in the Authority’s quest to increase competition amongst cellphone service providers in Bermuda’s electronic communications industry and to allow the public to benefit from advances in technology.

Carriers must unlock cellphones within one day of the request being made, or provide a good reason why it cannot meet that deadline.

Consumers should be aware that unlocking a cellphone does not negate any contract they may have with the carrier, which will remain in effect for the prescribed period.

Carriers need not unlock any cellphone which has not been purchased by one of the mobile carriers operating in Bermuda.

Carriers need not unlock any cellphone if they believe the request is fraudulent, the phone is stolen or if the customer’s account is in arrears.

If a carrier refuses to unlock a customer’s cellphone, it must explain to the customer why it is doing so.

And of course, if any customer believes he or she has been treated unfairly by the carrier, a complaint can be made to the Regulatory Authority.  The procedure for making a complaint is explained on the RA’s website www.rab.bm, in the section entitled Forms and Guides, which can be found at the top right of the home page.