Sprint said it would unlock my phone – did it break its promise?

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By Christopher Elliott

Sprint promises it will unlock Bill Fuller’s iPhone. Why won’t it?

Question

I have two iPhone 4S smartphones that I bought in 2011 under a two-year contract with Sprint. I made my final contracted monthly payment earlier this month. Both phones are now fully paid for and ostensibly are my property.

Sprint’s service coverage has been largely reduced in my area and I have frequent dropped calls and very low 3G speeds.

I recently received a notice from Sprint that on-network coverage in parts of Eastern Colorado and Western Kansas, (including along the I-70 Corridor), Southwest Kansas and Oklahoma Panhandle will change to roaming (off-network). Customers with Sprint-branded devices will be impacted when using services in the affected areas.

I need to move to another carrier and would like to take my expensive iPhones along with me.

I have explained all of the above to Sprint and despite this, it refuses to carrier unlock the phones. Two months, that’s how long I’ve been getting contradictory information from their representatives and have been repeatedly lied to.

Over the last two weeks, I have exchanged multiple calls and emails with senior customer service representatives within Sprint. They repeatedly assured me that they were “looking into” my complaint but that they thought it was unlikely that they could provide me with the full carrier unlock I requested.

Thanks in advance for your time and any assistance you may be able to provide — Bill Fuller, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Answer

If Sprint promised to unlock your phone, then it should do so immediately. But did it?

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Before I get to the answer, I should explain some of the wireless lingo we’re throwing around here. Your iPhone is locked by Sprint, which means it can only be used on Sprint’s network. But some carriers will unlock the phone at the end of your contract, and that’s what you were hoping Sprint would do after your two years.

You could have taken your unlocked phone to a different carrier that better meets your wireless communication needs, which is a perfectly reasonable request.

As I reviewed your chat transcript with Sprint, it seems the representative was offering you instructions on how to unlock your phone. She recommended taking it to a third party, who could unlock it. But I didn’t interpret it as an explicit promise to unlock your phone.

In the meantime, I’ve heard from several other customers who believe Sprint should unlock their phones. I agree. It would be nice of it to unlock all of its phones after their contract ends. I also agree that Sprint may have led many other customers to believe that it could — and would — unlock its phones at the end of their contracts.

I’m not entirely convinced that Sprint promised to unlock your phone, but I still thought this issue should be clarified once and for all. Will the company unlock your phone — or not?

Sprint privacy claims and unlocking challenges

To find out, I contacted the company on your behalf. A representative assured me that, “Our team will reach out to Mr. Fuller directly,” but after several weeks, you hadn’t heard from anyone. I contacted Sprint again and asked about the progress of your case.

“Our Executive Services Team has been in touch with Mr. Fuller,” a Sprint representative said. “To protect customer privacy, we cannot share specifics.” (Related: Sprint offers to reduce a reader’s phone bill but creates problems when his wife tries to upgrade her phone.)

Ah, the old privacy excuse! Most reasonable people consider that waived when someone contacts me and shares their phone number, account number and address in an effort to get a case resolved, but that’s fine.

I checked back with you, and it turns out the communication was very private. So private that you never got the message. You say Sprint never contacted you. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problem.)

That’s disappointing.

A few days later, Sprint posted a message on its forums that, “unfortunately at this time we are not able to unlock Sprint iPhones for domestic use.” I guess that’s Sprint’s final answer.

Did Sprint break its promise?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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