A while back, after being frustrated he couldn't unlock his off-contract AT&T iPhone to use outside the US, a gentlemen wrote Apple CEO Tim Cook to express his frustration, and Cook's officer arranged for AT&T to provide him with an unlock. It seems that wasn't a one of, as 9to5Mac reports it's since happened several more times.
We have received upwards of six emails from readers confirming an email sent to [Apple CEO Tim Cook]’s office resulted in a response from AT&T Partnership Operations informing them the carrier would make an exception to unlock their devices. Like the original reader, our tipsters have not received responses directly from Cook, but they did receive an email with instructions to tether their iPhone to iTunes to complete the unlock.
Official unlocks work via IMEI number -- the carrier enters the iPhone's EMEI number into Apple's database and the next time iTunes detects to the device, it connects to Apple, verifies the eligibility, and carries out the unlock. International carriers have been doing this, for free or for a fee, for years. AT&T hasn't.
So the question becomes, if these stories are accurate, and if AT&T is capable of doing unlocks when Tim Cook's office requests it, why can't they simply have an official policy? Why can't they just do it because, when you're off contract, it's the right thing to do?
An unlocked AT&T iPhone can't be used on Verizon or Sprint, and can only be used on T-Mobile 2G EDGE is most places, so any paranoia about losing customers could be more than offset by the goodwill it would engender from those very customers. And if a customer really is leaving for another country, wouldn't they be better off leaving with a great impression of AT&T, than bad feelings and a paperweight for a phone?