TELECOMMUNICATION COMPANIES are now required to allow customers to unlock mobile phones starting this month, as the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) released last week rules and regulations on this matter.

Memorandum Circular No. 01-05-2019, signed by the NTC on May 31 and published in a newspaper on Monday, outlined the process for telecommunications firms to “unlock” mobile devices, or disable the software that prevents a gadget from connecting to another network.

Globe Telecom, Inc. and PLDT, Inc.’s wireless unit Smart Communications, Inc. offer subscription deals that allow customers to buy mobile phones and devices free of charge or through a subsidy, but in return, are tied to a lock-in period with the provider.

The NTC rules that telcos must allow both postpaid and prepaid subscribers to unlock their mobile devices upon request, but separate policies apply for each.

For postpaid subscribers, the NTC said telcos must entertain “customers and former customers in good standing and individual owners of eligible devices after the fulfillment of the applicable postpaid services contract, device financing plan or payment of an applicable early termination fee.”

For prepaid subscribers, the requirement is to have complied with “usage requirements or agreed terms and conditions.”

Telcos such as Globe and Smart must complete the unlocking of eligible mobile devices within two business days from receipt of a request, or have tapped the original equipment manufacturer to do the unlocking.

If it is unable to do either, the telco concerned must provide an explanation to the customer why the device to be unlocked does not qualify for the process, or provide a reasonable explanation if more time is needed to complete unlocking.

The rules will be in effect 15 days after Monday publication, or on June 18.

Sought for comment on the new policy, PLDT-Smart Public Affairs Head Ramon R. Isberto said the company already complies with the new requirement. “We have already been assisting customers who, at the end of their subscription period, have asked for the unlocking of their phones. So tinutulungan na namin, actually [We’re already helping them, actually],” he said in a telephone interview.

Globe was unable to reply as of press time. As of end-March, Globe said it had a total of 83.49 million prepaid and postpaid subscribers, while PLDT had 63.95 million from Smart, TNT and Sun.

Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a majority stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Denise A. Valdez