Some time back, TracFone promised the Federal Communications Commission that it would provide its customers with “unlocked” free government cell phones. Unfortunately, TracFone, the parent company of Safelink Wireless, the largest Lifeline Assistance company, never followed through with this promise. So the FCC just came down on it like a proverbial ton of bricks for failing to comply with “consumer protection and service quality rules that Lifeline service providers are required to follow.”
The FCC edict applies not just to TracFone and Safelink, but also to a wide range of other “brands” that are owned by TracFone — including TracFone, Safelink Wireless, NET10, Straight Talk, Total Wireless, Page Plus, Telcel America, and Simple Mobile.
Now TracFone not only agreed that all its brands will unlock their customer’s cell phones, but to repurchase any cell phones it cannot unlock.
What is an “unlocked” cell phone and why is this action good for you?
Here’s how retailing giant BestBuy.com explains the consumer benefits of an unlocked cell phone:
Unlocked phones are becoming a popular choice here in the U.S. Why? Because nothing beats the freedom of an unlocked phone when it comes to choice of models, carriers or plans.
What is an unlocked smartphone? An unlocked smartphone is a phone that isn’t tied to a specific carrier or contract. Therefore, you have the freedom to shop for the latest phones and plans as often — or as infrequently — as you like. And when it comes to international travel, unlocked phones can’t be beat.
Clearly, this is excellent news for Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone users. One of the questions we are asked most frequently is “Can I change cell phone providers?” This agreement between the TracFone brands and the FCC means that you can keep the same cell phone if you move from one Lifeline Assistance provider to another, or even if you are lucky enough to land a job and move from a Lifeline account to a paid account.
Another question this answers is, “Can I use my free government cell phone when I visit a foreign country?” Now that your cell phone will be unlocked, you can avoid expensive international roaming charges when you visit another country.
Other ways the TracFone agreement helps consumers
We don’t want to get lost in the technical details of this agreement, so suffice it to say that TracFone and Safelink say they are now committed to providing consumers with many other benefits. PrepaidCellPhoneNews.com summarizes the main points like this:
- By September 1, 2015, TracFone will provide clear notifications to its customers about its handset unlocking policy. All eligible consumers will get at least one text message telling them that they are eligible, and consumers can go to the TracFone website to determine eligibility, request pre-paid mailers for trade-in of locked phones, and obtain other relevant information.
- By September 1, 2015, eligible non-Lifeline TracFone customers can trade in their old device for a cash refund of the trade-in-value of the handset.
- By May 1, 2016, as TracFone begins to launch handsets capable of being unlocked, eligible nonLifeline TracFone customers can trade in their old device for an upgrade credit toward a new, unlockable handset.
- By May 1, 2016, TracFone must provide new Lifeline customers with phones capable of being unlocked. Existing, eligible Lifeline customers may request a replacement unlocked handset. TracFone will also provide a $400,000 per month offset to the Universal Service Fund until it provides unlockable handsets to new Lifeline customers.
- By December 31, 2016, all phones launched by TracFone must be capable of being unlocked.
- Refunds, upgrade credits and replacement handsets will be available under the program through at least June 2018.
The bad news
Don’t plan on a big payday when TracFone buys back your cell phone. It might be enough to buy you lunch at your local drive-thru, but it won’t make a dent in the cost of a new cell phone.
At best you’ll get whichever is higher — 20% of your cell phone’s original retail price or its current value on BuyBackWorld.com.
Tracfone’s already run the numbers and this is what it estimates it will pay for various phones:
- $5 for a previously refurbished Lifeline phone
- $5 to $10 for feature phones (a feature phone is one that can access the Internet and store and play music, but doesn’t offer the advanced functionality of a smartphone)
- $20 to $40 for non-flagship Androids (a flagship phone is defined as a company’s premiere model packed with all the latest technology, such as a Motorola Moto X, Samsung Galaxy S7, LG G5, Google Nexus XP, HTC 10, etc)
- $100 for the Samsung Galaxy S4.
In other words, you won’t get rich from the buy- back, but it could cost TracFone a bundle if all its 20+ million customers qualify for the repurchase program.
For more information on the buy-back program, contact Safelink Wireless.