Why Verizon Shouldn’t Be Locking Some Bootloaders And What You Can Do To Help

Did you know that when Verizon locks the bootloader on certain devices, it’s breaking the law?  Hot on the heels of news regarding Motorola not unlocking the bootloader for its popular and upcoming Droid RAZR comes this surprising but much welcomed tidbit regarding FCC policies and procedures.  It seems the carrier has forgotten a few things and we aim to send some reminders.   But before we do so, we’ll need to reiterate why it’s illegal.  Ever heard of “Block C frequencies”?  Yeah, not many have.  Andrew Krug of Android Activist offers an explanation:

C block? No I am not referring to what that one guy always does when you go out drinking on the weekend. The C block is a swath of 700MHz bandwidth also known these days as 4G LTE that was up for auction several years ago by the FCC.

And azrienoch from XDA adds:

Verizon has the largest 4G network because they bought it in 2008.  At the time, the 700 MHz radio frequencies brought you your favorite broadcast television shows.  When television switched from analog to digital, they became your 4G networks.

When the FCC decided to auction off the 700 MHz band it was broken into five different “blocks” acquiring their own respective regulations according to how widespread they were.  Block D, being the largest was nice but had many clauses with it.  Block A, B & E were much smaller blocks and not as desirable.  However, Block C was considered the block of choice as it had seemingly few regulations and more breathing room.  However, in stepped a little small company called Google and encouraged the FCC to tack on a few more regulations.  What was the change?  Unless Block C was purchased for less than $4.6 billion dollars it came along with an “open access provision”.  According to the document, the open access provision required Verizon to:

not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice on the licensee’s C Block network.

and

The potential for excessive bandwidth demand alone shall not constitute grounds for denying, limiting or restricting access to the network.

Verizon, being big & smart and all purchased the block in hopes that it could remove the provision.  As you can guess it failed miserably.  So what does this mean?  It means that if a device utilizes the Block C bands, Vz cannot dictate what applications and firmware run on it.  In addition, they cannot limit a single data plan for said device which they clearly ignored in the form of data throttling back in Sept for unlimited plans, remember?  So, the next question is….which devices utilize the C Block?

While Verizon uses multiple devices on the frequencies such as Hot Spots, there is one little device you may have heard of, and that’s the HTC Thunderbolt.  Furthermore, it’s possible that there could be other handsets and devices that we don’t know of which use the specific range of bands.  Bare with us as we dig a little deeper to uncover  the list of devices. So technically the Thunderbolt doesn’t comply with FCC regulations as the document further states:

Handset locking prohibited.  No licensee may disable features on handsets it provides to customers, to the extent such features are compliant with the licensee’s standards pursuant to paragraph (b) of this section, nor configure handsets it provides to prohibit use of such handsets on other providers’ networks.

And before you go off and rant to HTC because there is no bootloader unlocking solution for T-Bolt on the HTCdev site, keep in mind that they did cover themselves with the following statement:

“HTC is committed to assisting customers in unlocking bootloaders for HTC devices. However, certain models may not be unlockable due to operator restrictions.”

So, who do we blame then?  Who can we complain to?  The folks over at XDA offer the following solution:

If you owned a Thunderbolt, please file a complaint with the FCC.  Select Wireless TelephoneBilling, Service, Privacy, Number Portability and other issuesOnline Form.  Fill out your information, scroll down, fill out 1 and 2, skip 3 and 4.  Then in 5, tell the FCC that your phone’s bootloader was sold to you locked and still is, even though it uses Block C (reag) frequencies.

We’ll see how fast Big Red can turn the Titanic around on this one.  The FCC has stated they are absolutely committed to enforcing the open access provision regulations.  Any thoughts?  Feel free to fire away in the comments below.

[via XDA & Android Activist]

» See more articles by Axl Logan


  • Juan

    Wow. Great information. I didn’t know all this. Hopefully enough people will do this and can help get rid of those unjust locked bootloaders.

  • bolski

    So it appears then those of us with 3G phones are SOL?

    Crap.

  • Anonymous

    I filed a complaint with the FCC about this when it was first posted. After 2 months I got a letter from Verizon saying it’s locked for security and network stability. Basically the same excuse they always use.