Ever since its introduction last month, Sprint's Financial Eligibility Check (FEC) has been a nightmare for its MVNO business partners as well as their potential customers. Just yesterday I was contacted by someone who claims the issue is still going strong when they were unable to activate a phone they purchased from Best Buy. The individual even went as far as to take the phone to a Sprint store to request help where they were quickly told to contact customer support.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Sprints now infamous FEC, the program/algorithm was designed to check a phones serial number (IMEI/ESN) to see if it's eligible for activation on the network. In a nutshell, eligibility is basically determined by whether or not the phones previous owner owes money on an account or not. Phones that are tied to an account with an outstanding balance, or phones that have been reported lost or stolen are to be blocked from activation while all others should be allowed to activate (with the exception of some phones bought from other prepaid providers). In theory the policy sounds perfectly reasonable, but something else appears to be going on beneath the surface.
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Phones that in theory should be able to be activated such as brand new Nexus devices purchased directly from Google and Apple iPhones purchased through Apple are failing Sprints FEC. The fact that this issue is still occurring a month after discovery signals to me that this may be by design. This may be an over simplification on my part, but if any of you out there have any coding experience, you know that looking up a value in a database and returning the value is essentially programming 101. Unless there are massive database errors that take time to correct, this issue would seem to be easy to fix if a fix is wanted. However Sprint has not publicly made any statements either way in regards to exactly what is going on here. The reason why Sprint would want such a broken policy to continue is hard to wrap my head around as I'm not sure how it could financially benefit them unless it somehow forces people to buy new phones through them, forces them to stay on as a Sprint customer, or they're passive aggressively trying to squeeze some of their MVNOs out of business in hopes of driving customers back to Sprint. This poorly implemented FEC policy has caused many Sprint MVNOs to lose money when potential new customers can't activate, in extra time they must devote to support, and in unsold phone inventory. It has also made some new phone owners quite upset when they find out they are essentially holding onto bricks.
There could be some hope for change though as now MVNOs such as Ting say they can at least activate some devices such as the previously mentioned iPhone and Nexus through a manual activation process but that is supposedly labor intensive and Ting says generally takes about two days. Ting has recently stated that they have been working with Sprint and have been able to get more devices activated now compared to when the FEC policy was first implemented. The company seems optimistic about being able to get all these issues further resolved. Hopefully they do, and Sprint reverses some of its policies, as it would seen to be in their best interest to do so before their relationships with their business partners sour.
According to Sprint MVNO Ting Wireless, it seems Sprint has made a lot of progress in fixing the FEC. Ting says they can now activate 30 million devices that previously would have failed the FEC. Any device activated 12 months or more ago, with the exception of the iPhone 5S and 5C will clear the FEC regardless of if it is active or not. Ting advises anyone with a device that previously failed the FEC and thus failed to activate with their service to try again. This of course goes applies to all the other Sprint MVNOs out there too.