White House petition lobbies to make cellphone unlocking legal

“As of January 26, it is illegal for U.S. mobile phone users to unlock newly purchased cell phones without express permission from their cell phone carriers,” Juli Clover reports for MacRumors. “Cell phone unlocking used to be possible as part of an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA), but the exception ended following a ruling by the Library of Congress’s Copyright Office in October of 2012.”

“Sina Khanifar, co-founder of OpenSignal, is protesting the new law with a whitehouse.gov petition calling for the decision to be rescinded,” Clover reports. “In 2004, Khanifar started Cell-Unlock.com, a business centered around unlocking mobile phones.”

Clover reports, “As Khanifar mentions in his petition, the loss of the exemption hinders mobile phone users who wish to unlock their phones for use abroad and it also devalues the devices.”

Read more in the full article here.

40 Comments

    1. I should be able to unlock my cellphone and swap out sims as long I continue to pay the monthly payments for the two year contract.
      That doesn’t cheat the telcos out of their subsidy at all.

      1. Wow. That’s actually the most sane statement I’ve read on the issue. Thank you ‘Synth’.

        As usual to all the ‘negative’ (as opposed to positive) anarchists out there who just don’t give a rat’s about their responsibilities: I have no sympathy for the consequences of your irrational actions. Eat them and gag. And please do flame me for saying so. I think it’s hilarious…

      2. Actually… While I agree with your sentiment, if you look at a contract it says “exclusively with”. That basically means using the phone with no other carrier.
        If you think that is the same thing, try explaining to your wife how you will stay with her, but you just want to “use” some others occasionally 😉
        Point is you signed a contract. Don’t like the terms, then don’t sign the contract (or pay the exit fees)

    2. Specially, if you own your phone you should be able
      to do as you wish with it. Even blend it right?

      Changing carriers should never be illegal.
      If it were, then phone companies and phone manufactures
      should only offer rentals of phones.
      That would hurt this entire market.

      So, unlocking needs to remain legal.

      1. I think you are missing the point you don’t own the phone unless you bought it, in which case it won’t be locked in the first place.

        What these people are talking about is a subsidized phone, where a carrier agrees to pay for most of you phone and in return you agree to use the phone exclusively on their service for a certain period.
        You don’t own (free and clear) a subsidized phone. Simply buy a phone outright if you want one unlocked. If you want payments then put an unlocked phone on a credit card and pay $20/month on it.
        I really don’t understand why people think they don’t have to honor contracts (that they sign).

          1. Mmmm… Then don’t sign a subsidized contract.
            Contracts are an agreement between to parties, either party can not agree to the deal (and no you can’t fore a telco to accept you changes any more than than can force you to accept the contract)
            If you don’t like the contract you have the ability buy a phone outright and then buy service for it month to month at the provider of you choice.
            You can’t have it both ways, I want an unlocked phone but I want the other party to pay 2/3 of the purchase price . That isn’t haw contracts work you can’t unilaterally specify contract details (they must be a mutual agreement)

  1. It seems fair to disallow unlocking for the duration of the contract, but if the contract is up, or the phone has been paid for with cash, unlocking should be legal.

    I suppose there needs to be an exception for international travelers.

    1. It really doesn’t matter if you’re still under contract or not, so long as you pay your monthly bill. All it deprives the carrier of is potential overages, which are speculative at best (plus they don’t have to provide the service anyway).

      1. its their company, they will run it as they wish…
        there are options and other companies to deal with.
        non contract and tabbed methods of paying for your phone

        you have choices customers are right but you can’t always have your cake and eat it too.

  2. Personally, if I had my way, *locking* would be illegal.

    Carriers already have contracts which keep us “locked in” for the duration of the contract to make up for the subsidy.

    If carriers didn’t lock, they could keep the contract, but users would be free to switch carriers, or even have dual carriers. This could ultimately benefit the carriers.

      1. Derek, you’re missing the point.

        What I’m proposing is that carriers still have the contract and the subsidy, but don’t physically lock you in.

        A customer could switch carriers, but would still have to pay under the terms of the contract.

        By not physically locking people in, it allows for all carriers to benefit since many people would end up with dual carriers, and carriers would benefit from people signing up with phones brought in as opposed to being subsidized.

        And everyone wins with used phones having higher resale value.

        The problem here is that since locking is legal, no one carrier wants to be the odd man out. If locking is legal, and others are locking, it benefits all other carriers to lock as well. Only when no carriers lock, they all have the maximum benefit.

        Again, non-physical lock-in still would occur due to contract terms of the subsidy.

        1. “And everyone wins with used phones having higher resale value.”

          Well, everyone except the cell phone manufacturers and especially the carriers who like to charge tens of dollars for official iPhone unlocks (carriers here range from $35 with reasonable terms, to $75 with ridiculous restrictions). More swappable phones also means less need to buy a whole new phone (plus a second “activation fee”) if you lose or kill your original phone–again, great for users, not so good for carriers or makers.

            1. Different carriers have different rules. I mention in a comment further down that Canadian carriers milk their customers worse than the US ones. Telus is the one with $35 unlock fee and reasonable unlocking conditions, Rogers slightly worse at $50, and Bell is the ultimate scam at $75 and follows the “must finish contract” condition that Agent Provocateur defends for some reason. That condition is especially indefensible given the ridiculous 3 year contracts we have to put up with here to get reasonable subsidized prices.

              Example smartphone prices: 3 year: $150. 2 year: $550. 1 year: $600. No contract (but still locked): $650. And that’s when you can find 2 and 1 year term options at all; I wanted to link to an example because I know they’ve offered them in the recent past, but after a quick look through a dozen different phones on all 3 major carriers’ websites, I can’t find even a single one right now, they’re all either 3 years subsidized or full price (and still locked), period.

              Source: http://www.iphoneincanada.ca/carriers/telus/telus-unlocking-fee-drops-to-35-for-the-iphone-and-other-devices/ and you can search for Rogers and Bell policies if you really care to.

        2. Yes it is a small win win situation, but the margins of profit for the carrier and the complexity of the matter is not for you to tell the TELCOs how to run their business. A contract is a contract. Deal with it.

          However, if you own the phone, unlocking and changing carriers later should never be ILLEGAL.

          1. @WaterFalls,

            Read what I wrote *twice* again.

            “A contract is a contract.”

            I’m 100% in favor of contracts. I have never said otherwise.

            “However, if you own the phone, unlocking and changing carriers later should never be ILLEGAL.”

            Again, this is what I’m saying.

            The only thing I’m adding to this is saying that the physical lock benefits nobody and hurts the industry (and environment) overall. The contractual lock does benefit everyone who takes advantage of the subsidy (be it consumer, manufacturer or carrier).

        3. Didn’t I already CHEER that concept here? I wasn’t being sarcastic. All the carrier really wants, here in our abusive Age of Marketing, is to sell you a contract and lock you into forking over money to them. They don’t care about your delight and benefit because that is so out of fashion and antithetical to customer abuse. So in your scenario, the parasites are happy, and so are you. That may well scare the abusive companies because DARN, you benefited in some way! On the other hand, they may notice there is no lost customer gouging in letting you take your phone elsewhere ALSO.

          Yes, the above is cynical about biznizz bozos, but I’m not at all disagreeing with your concept. As I said, it’s the most sane argument I’ve seen.

  3. It is pointless to petition the white house to overturn legislation. Call or write to your congressman.

    Honestly, it’s like nobody reads the constitution any more.

    -jcr

    1. This wasn’t legislation. It was a ruling by the Library of Congress… which appears to be another legislating branch of the federal government. The Library, I mean… not Congress.

      Who knew?

      And what’s it all to the LoC, anyway? They got a burr up their collective asses about unlocked cell phones?

      C’mon… wtf is wrong with this picture?

    2. @JCR:
      Except no one is asking the White House to overturn legislation. So, condescending response unwarranted…that’s embarrassing.
      The exemptions to the DMCA are decided by the Copyright Office, which is not a legislative body. Those decisions are made through authority delegated by Congress and is thus administrative law. The White House actually does have a say in this because multiple executive-branch agencies have input into what devices should be exempt when the Copyright Office makes those decisions.
      Also, the Justice Department a LOT of (probably too much!) discretion about what cases they will take when it comes to criminal prosecution and how heavy-handed they will be. That’s also the executive branch.

  4. What the hell is up with you Americans? Here In Australia it’s illegal for carries not to unlock your phone at your request. Ofcourse we must continue to pay the full cost of our contracts for the duration. However if I travel Overseas I have every right to take my phone and use another SIM card while overseas.

    1. As long as I pay my two year contract, i should be able use a different SIM, use my phone to flip eggs, rent out as a hockey puck, plant tomatoe sprouts, whatever.
      None of those things hurt the telcos, in fact it lessens the load on their network if I’m using the phone on a different network in timbuktu or Europe.

  5. In Luxembourg it is illegal to sell locked phones. In France, you can unlock after 3 months but your iPhone 5 won’t do 4G once unlocked. All of this should be illegal.

  6. AT&T is known for having unlocked iPhones for US military personnel that are assigned overseas upon notice and proof of assignment.

    A business person that needs an unlocked phone for work should be able to deduct the cost on taxes.

    That leaves the whiners who just want an unlocked phone at a subsidized price.

    1. Right. “Whiners” such as people going on vacation overseas. Because only military and business people should be allowed to use foreign SIMs so they aren’t charged exorbitant roaming phone and data fees while still keeping and paying for their regular contract.

        1. No. Your absolute defense of the carriers without even considering such a reasonable compromise is inexcusable.

          The “You signed a contract” retort is also unhelpful because while it’s true for current contracts, you’re claiming the status quo is the best and only way it should ever be, and the terms shouldn’t ever change in the future to benefit consumers. In Canada, which is even worse than the USA for ripping off cell phone customers (THREE YEAR contracts to get a reasonable subsidized price, among other things), most of the major carriers allow you to officially unlock for a fee without terminating the monthly contract.

          BTW I did buy a factory unlocked iPhone from the local Apple store. That doesn’t mean I can’t take and fully support the side of customers on subsidized contracts demanding reasonable compromises.

          1. Apple sells the unlocked phone to you for essentially the same price the carriers pay. When you get an iPhone for $200 on a 2 year contract, part of the monthly charges under the contract pays of the rest of the phone’s price. Asking for an unlocked phone is wanting something for nothing.

            1. Is there a comprehension problem over “while still keeping and paying for their regular contract”? This is the very reasonable compromise Synth and I are talking about, where owners of subsidized, contracted phones KEEP the contract and KEEP PAYING the regular monthly fee even after getting it unlocked, for the full contract term. So even if you stick a foreign SIM into it while on vacation and do pre-paid locally, you’re still paying your regular monthly minimum back home even though you’re not using it, and they keep paying down their subsidy.

              That is NOT the same as asking a subsidized phone be unlocked and then walking away from the contract without paying termination or the rest of the subsidy. People demanding that are indeed being unreasonable, but you’re being unreasonable in supporting the opposite extreme and not recognizing a middle ground exists.

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