Britain to Ban 'Locked' Mobile Sales, Make Broadband Switching Easier

Britain to Ban 'Locked' Mobile Sales, Make Broadband Switching Easier
The Ofcom (Office of Communication) logo on the front of its headquarters in London, on Jan. 18, 2007. (Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)
Lily Zhou

Mobile phone vendors in the UK will be banned from selling "locked" handsets from December 2021, the Office of Communications (Ofcom) said.

"We know that lots of people can be put off from switching because their handset is locked," Selina Chadhn, Ofcom's Connectivity Director said in a statement.

"So we're banning mobile companies from selling locked phones, which will save people time, money, and effort—and help them unlock better deals," she added.

Some mobile providers sell locked phones which "cannot be used on other networks until they are unlocked," while others "choose to sell unlocked devices," Ofcom said in a statement (pdf).

Ofcom decided to ban sales of locked devices because the evidence it obtained "suggests that just over one third of customers who had considered switching, but decided not to, said device locking was one of the factors that put them off."

The new rule is part of a package of measures the Ofcom announced on Tuesday, which it said was aiming to help broadband, mobile, pay TV, and landline customers to "get a fair deal."

From December 2022, when a broadband user switches providers, the new provider will be required to lead the switch and offer a seamless switching experience.

"Any loss of service that occurs during a switch must not be longer than one working day and providers must compensate customers if things go wrong," Ofcom said.

Notice period charges beyond the switch date for residential customers switching their fixed services will also be banned.

From June 2022, customers will be provided bulletin points of their contract terms and more detailed information in writing before signing the contracts. Customers will also be given stronger rights to exit their contracts.

From December 2021, service providers can no longer offer contracts for bundles with commitment periods of longer than 24 months.

New rules taking effect from December 2021 also expands accessibility for disabled customers. Under current rules, blind or vision impaired customers can request certain correspondence in an accessible format such as braille or large print free of charge. This rule will be extended to all correspondence except marketing materials, and to "all customers who need alternative formats because of their disabilities."

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