Bipartisan bill in U.S. Senate would allow users to legally unlock their smartphones

“U.S. Sen. Al Franken and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have introduced bipartisan legislation that would allow users to legally unlock their smartphone once their contract subsidy has concluded,” Neil Hughes reports for AppleInsider. “The Democrat from Minnesota announced on Tuesday that the ‘Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act’ would restore an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and allow users to unlock their cell phone once their contract expires.”

“Joining Franken were Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah),” Hughes reports. “The bill was prompted by a Library of Congress ruling made in late 2012 that determined cell phone unlocking would be removed as a legal exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. As of Jan. 26, 2013, unauthorized unlocking of all newly purchased phones became illegal.”

Read more in the full article here.

Related articles:
AT&T Mobility: Yes, we’ll unlock your iPhone at end of contract – March 9, 2013
Obama administration: It’s time to legalize cellphone unlocking – March 4, 2013
U.S. government makes iPhone jailbreaking, unlocking legal – July 26, 2010

24 Comments

    1. Your ignorance is appalling. As for the cell phone issue itself; the Librarian of Congress made the unlocking of phones illegal, because the proper jurisdiction for this matter has never been sorted out. Since the Librarian of Congress cannot make law, he did the right thing.

    1. Larry, make your move and don’t hesitate. 4 mos ago I switched to Net10, same co. as Straight Talk and couldn’t be happier. Excellent service, once you get through the heavy Hispanic accents, and my quality of signal is more dependable than old provider. And you can choose between ATT or Verizon; may take a little persistance, but make your case and you will succeed – all you may need is a new sim card. And the savings is fantastic.

      1. The main problem I have with these plans like Straight Talk and Black Wireless etc. is they don’t have tethering. The Black Wireless plan w/ 2GB is $60, so add the $35 I’d have to pay for a separate wireless data plan for my iPad and MacBook and I’m back up to what I’m paying ATT. Bummer.

        Do any of these low-cost plans have tethering?

        1. Out of curiosity, why do you NEED tethering? What is the attraction? I find wifi to be prolific these days and rarely fail to find a connection out and about.

          Not saying you don’t need it, I am genuinely curious as to who is using it, and why? For me, I don’t see the need I guess.

          1. There’s always the edge cases. We’re tethering right now at the work because our Internet was cancelled ahead of the office closing, and we can’t use any of the wifi from other businesses around us.

            Also, LTE speeds have been unbelievable–a public wifi is very limited in speed. I found that I get 25 Mbps down AND up, compared to even the crappy 1 up of our old small office Internet (granted that was unlimited, whereas we only get 6 GB a month on our phones).

    1. If you buy a contract phone, and you are paying a portion of your monthly bill towards the purchase of same, what gives you the right to unlock a device you don’t own? That would be stealing.

      1. It is amazing how many people don’t get that ‘tbone’. They think that because it is in their pocket, they own it. I wonder how they feel about leased cars? Do they think that they have the right to modify the cars?

          1. You must have replied to the wrong post here. There is no mention of “after their contract expires” in any of the posts I responded to. Besides replying to the wrong post and not reading well enough to figure it out, you are rude and clueless.

            1. It’s right up there, you know, at the top of this page…

              …‘Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act’ would restore an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and allow users to unlock their cell phone once their contract expires.”

            2. Except… AT&T will (and have) gladly unlocked phone -once the contract is satisfied.-

              Up till recently they were the only carrier (offering iPhones) that were transportable anyway. Both sprint and Verizon use proprietary forms of CDMA so those phones were only good on that network (or an MVNO of theirs) anyway (i.e. a sprint phone could only operate on sprint)

              So like the bit torrent where virtually every user claims to be using it for legitimate file distribution (even though 97% of the content on the bit torrent is illegal (i.e. pirated)) This is either much ado about nothing. Complete you contract and AT&T will gladly unlock your phone with a minimum of fuss (I have unlocked several) OR it is about those who want to use phones that are still under contract with another carrier.

      2. NO, unlocking a phone during the contract is NOT stealing if you continue to pay on your contract, plain and simple.

        When my daughter went to England, AT&T would not unlock her phone. Rather than the ease of buying a sim and using it instead of racking up huge expensive roaming charges, she had to buy a phone there. Ridiculous. The contract was paid while she was away, there was no reason to deny the unlock.

    2. The carriers have every right to lock the phone until you pay for it (it’s still their phone until you complete the contract). However, I agree that once the phone is paid for under the contract, you should be free to unlock it and use it with any carrier of your choice.

  1. Phone locking is not much different than CSS (as in DVD Content Scrambling System; not Cascading Style Sheets). It is a moderately annoying obstacle which is high enough for most ordinary consumers not to try to overcome it, and which prevents them from abandoning their contract (essentially breaking it). While they are legally required to continue paying their monthly plan until the end of the contract, or pay early termination fee, it isn’t that difficult to just stop paying and not bother with the company anymore. The legal recourse for the carrier is to pursue the matter in court. This obviously cost enough money not to be worth pursuing. So, rather than risk users bailing on their contracts, they lock phones to their own network, thereby making it much less likely for consumers to consider bailing.

    Before the appearance of the iPhone, every GSM carrier in America used to provide unlocking instructions to their customers upon request. In fact, in most instances, they would do this barely two months into the contract, as long as you were a customer with the carrier for a certain period of time. Then came the DMCA (and then the iPhone), followed by other similarly priced (and heavily subsidised) smartphones, and suddenly, nobody would allow ANY unlocking, regardless of out-of-contract status. Pile on top of that the Library of Congress ruling (interpreting locking as protection of intellectual property, and consequently unlocking as decryption of that protection, hence in violation of the DMCA), and it was easy for carriers to just not bother allowing unlocking.

    It took quite a while for the outrage to gain some momentum (first iPhones were coming out of contract in mid-2009), but it looks like it will finally happen.

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