The five largest USA-based carriers have come to an agreement through the CTIA (The Wireless Association) with the FCC over their policy for unlocking phones in North America. Barring those devices the institutions have reason to believe were stolen or otherwise fraudulently acquired, it would appear that the carrier unlock sequence has been made as free and open as it's ever been. A new set of rules have been set forth and will be adopted by the five larges mobile data carriers in the USA inside the next 12 months.
The new addition to the groups' Consumer Code for Wireless Service includes different rules for Postpaid and Prepaid devices, and include a provision for military personnel upon receiving deployment papers as well. This military bit demands that carriers unlock any mobile wireless device for any member of the USA military as soon as they've received deployment papers so long as they're in good standing with the carrier.
- Postpaid Unlocking Policy: Carriers, upon request, will unlock mobile wireless devices or provide the necessary information to unlock their devices for their customers and former customers in good standing and individual owners of eligible devices after the fulfillment of the applicable postpaid service contract, device financing plan or payment of an applicable early termination fee.
- Prepaid Unlocking Policy: Carriers, upon request, will unlock prepaid mobile wireless devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time, payment or usage requirements.
They've also made special note of response time - it must be within two business days after receiving an unlocking request that carriers must either unlock the device in question or submit a request with the manufacturer of said device so that they can do it from their end. If they cannot, they must provide an explanation as to why they're unable or as to why they need more time to fulfill the request.
The full terms of the agreement can be found in PDF form at the CTIA's archive where you'll be able to print off a hard copy and read at your leisure. Remember that these rules will be implemented at the top five carriers in the USA within 12 months, and not necessarily immediately. That's Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, and U.S. Cellular.