U.S. House clears legislation to make unlocking cellphones legal

By Bla1ze on 25 Jul 2014 07:59 pm EDT
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Although most people generally don't think of it when they go to unlock their cellphone for another carrier, the process of doing so in the U.S. has been a topic of much debate involving consumers, the House of Representatives, and even the President of the United States.

For those unfamiliar, service providers like AT&T and Verizon typically lock their devices so they can only be used with their service. If unlocked, phones can be taken over to other carriers. This is hugely important for promoting healthy competition and empowering consumer choice, not to mention being very useful for travel.

Cellphone unlocking had previously been allowed but that law expired in January 2013, making the practice technically illegal within the U.S. After many months in limbo, Congress has decided to pass the unlocking bill making it once again legal, and President Barack Obama plans to sign it.

Such a silly thing to have in place, which certainly outlines how some of the laws are outdated. Sadly, it might not be the last we hear of it as the current exemption when signed is only good up until 2015.

Reader comments

U.S. House clears legislation to make unlocking cellphones legal

155 Comments

can some one explain why is this an issue?.. In Mexico, who I consider, backwards in all its legal system... it is mandatory to the carriers to unlock every cellphone per owners request...

I know, that is the deep deep hidden reason, but they must give some sort of explanation to the public, even something like saying that they are trying to ensure that carriers don't go bankrupt through the locking of the device so that people can renew contracts and push the economy, I don't know, something gibberish but at least they need to explain it in a way that you can "buy" it... Mexico has a large powerful monopoly leaded by the once richest man of the world and now richest man of the world again, the Jewish Carlos Slim, and the only competition comes from another big monopoly of the telecom... nevertheless, I don't know how the bill got approved but it is mandatory to unlock devices

"No, Carlos Slim Helú is not a Jew. He is of Lebanese origins and a Maronite Catholic by religion."

Thanks for clarifying that for the idiot above. Maybe he should take his discriminatory comments elsewhere. Incidentally, try to think about who invented text messaging as well as Whatsapp and maybe that'll help to keep his mouth shut.

Just as it should be. I know in Canada, as long as you own the phone and it is off contract you can request, and be furnished with, the unlock code for your device. Seems logical to me.

Posted via CB10 on my Q10

The new Canadian law is that your cellphone can be unlocked after two (2) months if/when you buy out the remainder of your contract (most phones are sold as part of a package data plan).

Regardless, the phone must be unlocked by the carrier after two years. But, you're right in that you have to ask for the unlock code.

Posted via CB10

Same here in The Netherlands.
Almost none of the devices are locked anymore except pay as you go devices. And those that are can be unlocked on request, depending on how old, for a fee. Max € 75.- I think. But those are old devices and after 1 year its free to unlock.
The whole locking is weird, you pay for the device with your contract so the carrier always gets its investment back.

This is the only thing worth a damn that congress has done all year.

Posted by Antoniius via my sexy Gold and White Q10.

"This is the only thing worth a damn that the government has done all year."

Fixed it for you buddy. :-)

This pertains to phones bought from the carriers. Manufacturers selling factory unlocked phones are free to do whatever they want.

Anti-competitive measures....

Not a very popular thing with US corporations. The EU watchdogs are more active, but can't always be relied on either...

I enter a contract, pay for the phone, so it should be mine for whatever purpose. If it's paid off or getting paid off through the contract or early termination fee, it should be the customer's.

Usually, I'm not playing this game and buy my phones outright. Mostly cheaper anyway. The $40 prepaid plans are so good here in Australia. The only benefit of a plan is, your warranty on the phone is now 24 months when signing up for 24 months. You only get the standard one year if you go outright.

Pasted via CB chen

Anti-competitive measures....
that's what it is practically, if you forbid users to unlock their rightfully acquired phones.

What I meant was: US corporations all want healthy competition on the paper and in their publicity stunts, but when it is actually needed, Congress and the people have to petition for a law, that is actually enforcing healthy competition.

Some countries and regions are more in tune with what's required...

Pasted via CB chen

Corp. lobbyists, because people are in the treadmill and have no time, or have time and don't care (dole is too convenient, isn't it).

Realistically,
The power of People is more than the people in power.

Pasted via CB chen

Do it!

60 x 24 = 1440 standard contract
+ 24 x 15 = 360 handset repayment fees
= $1800 - freedom + potential excess charges

40 x 24 = 960 prepaid unlimited plan BOOST, Amaysim, dodo
+ 600 phone of choice
= $1560 + freedom - fear of excess charges

And if you don't pay or can't pay for a month, your credit rating is not affected and no shonky debt collection agencies chasing you (not that this would be the case)....

That is for Australia. BOOST, Amaysim, dodo and even Optus have great prepaid plans, I wonder why people still go on a standard handcuff contract ...

Even if you start with a cheapo phone and put money aside, you'll quickly come out ahead and can flash the cash... to buy your phone of choice.

Pasted via CB chen

The excess charges here in Australia are so sneaky, I rarely see people with less than a hundred bux a month...

When I tell them, I pay $40 for unlimited calls to landline+mobile+1800+13xx, TXT/SMS/MMS, and between 2GB (Boost, using Telstra) and 5GB (dodo, using Optus) data per month, their jaw drops... no extra charges ever...

So weird, people just don't shop around or collect information to find the best option out there...

Pasted via CB chen

@Prem... americans have asked me why they get to buy our petro cheaper than we do ,and it comes from Canada,EH!! we won't go there but everyone will need a Passport to survive ,HAHA

TXT = SMS

MMS (Multimedia Message Service) is just SMS when sending a picture or media file attachment

So all three are practically the same.

1800 are the free numbers, but some carriers charge(d) you for them anyway when calling from a mobile, and 1300 or 13xx are a lot of government dept. service numbers

Pasted via CB chen

In Montreal monthly plan is the same as contracts unlimited Canada wide plus 3G data 50$, 40$ for 1G witness Fido

Posted via CB10

"I enter a contract, pay for the phone, so it should be mine for whatever purpose. If it's paid off or getting paid off through the contract or early termination fee, it should be the customer's."

This x100. The telecom companies here actually argued that unlocked phones incentivized buying phones (on a subsidy,) and then bolting to other carriers. What they conveniently swept under the rug was the fact they charge ETFs should a customer decide to leave the carrier.

But don't they have only limited bands when using on other networks?

So they're technically still kinda locked, ... :-)

Pasted via CB chen

Good point. I was about to say that's not true, but it actually is. The Verizon Q10 and Z30 don't get LTE on TMO everywhere, despite 1. having band 4 in them, and 2. TMO LTE being present in these places. Oddly enough though, if these phones are taken to Canada and a Canadian SIM is put in, band 4 LTE is available everywhere it's deployed. So it's just in the US that they block b4, and even then, only in some places but not others.

I have a feeling that US is the only-ish country in the world with so many freaking bands all over the place. This frequency for this carrier, that frequency for that one, some other for others. It's insane. I hear in Europe all carriers support the same bands and somehow they do okay. It seems to be better for the people. Choice on the consumer's end is more visible than in the US.

Posted with my Awesome Z10 via CB10

That's true. It wasn't this bad with UMTS bands partly because there were only two GSM carriers, but LTE the common standard has made it really, really bad. Right now, there are 6-8 unique LTE bands in use, and that's just amongst the Big Four (unique as in only 1/4 uses that band, like b13.)

Agreed! It's the greatest place, but some spoil it with their greed. Did somebody say 1%.....? hehe!

Posted with my Awesome Z10 via CB10

Do you what to know why it the law is up for reauthorization in 2015? Read the book Extortion. When bills come up for renewal it gives the politicians the chance to shake down for donations those that are affected by the bill. Wake up America! The Republicans and Democrats are in this together.

Posted via CB10

Unlocking should be the norm everywhere and without any fees to do so! What a waste of time for the Pres of U.S to take time away from a busy schedule just to sign and only for what, til next year??. Shouldn't he be concentrating on nore important issues in the world? Geez!

Q10 with Telus on 10.3.0.296

Haha President Obama has been fundraising in California and the Hamptons while the world is burning.

Posted via CB10

If you look at the first link in Bla1ze's post, it was something asked for by the people. I can't think of a more important thing an elected leader could attend to, than the will of his people. The one year term was probably to keep the telecom lobby happy, because they probably would not have liked a long term solution.

Anyone else think rather than they debating the unlocking of cellphones, they should debate the locking of cellphones?

T-Mobile is giving me a hard time unlocking my son's iPhone because I'm leaving the country. Their push back is, the phone is still being paid off so no. WTF? But back in February of this year, they had no problem unlocking my z10 while it was still being paid off. Inconsistencies.

T-Mobile USA Z10

damn that sucks for you i have prepaid plans with tmo and never had a problem as long as the phone has been in sevice for 90 days, post pay stinks

The 90 day requirement, is BS too, though. You buy phones outright on prepaid, so why should you have to wait? Thankfully, this law will allow you to get around that. Unfortunately, it doesn't force the carriers to cough up the code. It just makes it legal for you to get it unlocked without getting carrier permission.

Again, another example of US political stupidty. Instead of just making it legal, period, they have to set a time limit, JUST IN CASE it becomes something worth fighting over in an election. Meanwhile useful, necessary bills get held up behind a never ending line of expiring, previously debated legislation.

Posted via CB10

Just a bunch of BS! If a person sing a contract and gets a phone at a reduced price, I can see it being locked. How ever the minute the contract is up or if a person purchases the phone out right it should be unlocked. If out of contract or purchased out right the phone is the individuals property. Not the carriers.
Do you hear me Sprint!

Even if the person's getting it on a subsidy, why shouldn't the phone be unlocked? If the person decides to cancel the contract, the carriers protect themselves with ETFs. So either way, I'd end up paying the same.

If you get it at a reduced price, I can see the carrier being able to protect them selves. Now if one decides to end the contract and buy out of it yes, it's the person's property and should be unlocked. It's just plain stupidity if someone thinks there going to purchase a phone for a dollar and have it unlocked.

But they ARE protecting themselves with an ETF. What are you going to do with an unlocked phone if you don't leave? And if you do leave, they get you with that ETF. So either way you pay the phone off.

How many people have you seen that has left a carrier pay the ETF? Unless they come back the said carrier.

The carriers go after everyone who breaks their contract. If they don't pay, the carriers blacklist the phone (which is a shared list between US carriers,) and send them to collections and possibly ding their credit as well. So if you decide not to pay for your phone, there ARE consequences. BTW, this can even happen with locked phones. Contract breakers are not all unlocked phone owners. (Edit) And the carriers don't care if you leave and then come back. They don't return your ETF money. And if you're not getting a discount on service then (as was the case until recently,) aren't you essentially paying twice for the phone?

But to answer your question, everyone that I know of who's bought a phone from one carrier and gone to another (3 iPhone owners,) all paid their ETFs.

Well let's say about 20 years ago Verizon pizzed me off and I told them to go screw them selves. They sent me a bill for $85.00 for ETF and guess what I haven't payed it and won't. Now if I go back to those SOB's I will have to pay it in order to get there service. So what it's on my credit report, it hasn't stopped me from getting a loan.

Lol 20 years ago, Verizon Wireless wouldn't have existed, much less had unlockable, $600 phones :P

Remember, we're talking in the context of the argument these carriers frame for keeping phones locked.

And I'm saying you aren't getting something for nothing, as they wanted the powers-that-be to believe. They have policies in place to make sure that doesn't happen, and again, unlocked phone owners aren't the only ones who break contracts.

Romans 13:8 "Owe no man anything...."

It goes both ways. Carriers vs customer and customer vs carrier.
And that's why phones that are paid off should be unlocked without any hassle, and people should pay their fees and dues, unless it's a billing error, of course.

Pasted via CB chen

I going to tell you a story. There was a carrier called AirTouch Wireless that was bought out by verizon. I was in my fourth year of service and all five lines (phones) had been payed for two years. Verizon tells me they aren't going to honor the AirTouch contract and told me I would have to go to a corporate store and sing a new 2 year contract. Meanwhile they turned my service off until I signed the contract. Did I mention that that the corporate store is 65 miles away. I told them it wasn't going to happen and turn my phones back on. They said they didn't offer the plans Airtouch offered and I had to sign a new contract at a corporate store. Needless to say I wasn't going to drive 65 mile to sign a BS contract because they bought an other carrier out and wouldn't honor the contracts that where in place. So Verizon charged me for ETF of Airtouch's contract. There for I'm not paying it.

And they didn't pursue it any further, right? Because legally, they would have had no claim to it. You inherit debts and assets. They can't summarily absorb another carrier, and not honor contracts still in place without giving something up themselves. What they should have done there is, cancel Airtouch contracts, but the phones are yours to keep. Not sure how helpful that would have been, but AT&T did something similar to me a few years back, but they did it the proper way.

But you do bring up a good point: consumer protection in case of a breach by carriers. As per the contracts, carriers get their ETF money, but what's my recourse if they decide to terminate the contract? I get to keep the phone? How good a solution is that if my phone won't work on any other carrier (what up, Sprint?)

Well it's on my credit report. The only way I can get it removed is pay it. I'm guess you know the answer to that.
Sprint sucks. But what carrier doesn't?

Thanks for sharing.

Looks like they didn't honour their contract obligations when buying out the smaller carrier...

US-American gung-ho capitalism, we in Australia have the Telco Ombudsman for such nonsense...

Pasted via CB chen

Not only should it be allowed, it should be mandatory. Carriers shouldn't be able to sell locked phones.

Posted via CB10

Only in United States of Crappie America...shit is no issues in Communist Cuba. where I'm. You all should move to Cuba.

Posted via CB10 - Powered by Q10

No only cronies of the ruling party really has one,for the general population that does and can afford one, it's heavily monitored which by default makes them useless. So I don't know what that rants about.

Posted via CB10

They removed it because the 7 Digital contract ended and they released an appstore of their own instead.

Posted from my BlackBerry Q10 on AT&T

BlackBerry has phased out both the music and video catalogs, you can get the music from downloading the 7 digital app available in BlackBerry World and try to find an App in the Amazon store to get the movies you want. I don't use Android Apps so can't recommend one from the Amazon Store for you.,perhaps someone can assist you with that here.

Posted via CB10

Verizon does not lock it's CDMA+GSM+UMTS+LTE enabled devices though. I think it's illegal to do it on a device that runs on Band 13 (700 MHz block C) in the United States.

Posted from my BlackBerry Q10 on AT&T

More specifically, they don't lock their band 13 devices. They're under no obligation to keep any device missing band 13 unlocked. So tomorrow, if a phone comes out with just band 4 (Verizon's "XLTE" band,) it could very well be locked.

But what we've been finding out in the forums is that in joint band 13-band 4 devices like the Z30 and Q10 (which are unlocked,) LTE b4 doesn't always work on other carriers. The reason's not clear, but there seems to be some sort of a block in some places, but not in others.

That could be it, but what determines the whitelisting? It works on AT&T in Chicago, for example, but not on TMO in other places where it has LTE. There probably is a pattern/rule of thumb, but we just haven't been able to figure it out yet.

Welcome to the United Corporations of America... Thank the companies for allowing their legislatures to throw a bone to the people every now and then; but you only get to chew on it when and for how long they say you can.

Crack-a-lackin' since '08

As a citizen of the formerly exceptional United States of America, laws no longer matter here. POTUS will decree what he will if he doesn't like what the people's representatives decree. That is how BHO rolls. Laws be damned and that pesky Constitution, well that is just another impediment. In this American soldiers vho. oorah

Posted via CrackBerry App

Thanks - but you must not have read my post or understood it anyway. For clarity, the intent was laws no longer matter here. We have a King who rules by fiat without regard to separation of powers as required by our Constitution. Semper fi to all the good folks remaining in Merica. "LOL" not many of us left.
Posted via CrackBerry App

Oh I understood well. I reiterate that nothing has changed, I don't know how BHO became king, he hasn't use his veto power, as much as his predecessors, so I am lost as to why you refer to him as king.

Posted via CB10

So POTUS is spelled like PUTIN soon... ...?

Time for the LORD to come back and clean up this mess of ours.

Pasted via CB chen

Wow..... these petty Laws can only happen in the USA. So proud to be British. again Wow!!

Posted via CB10

It's ok to buy guns and ammunition but things like Kinder surprise (banned!) and cellphone unlocking was going to be illegal if the bill passed. I guess the US Congress has too much free time on hand. Phew I'm glad I don't live in the US.

Posted via CB10

A bill was needed because otherwise, it was illegal to unlock without the carriers' permission. Who decided this, you ask? Why, the Librarian of the Congress. Not Congress itself, but the Librarian of the Congress.

Hmm. Here in France the carrier is OBLIGED to unlock any phone upon request if 3 months have passed since you bought them.

Plus, a couple of years back they started to launch a series of subscriptions with no engagement. You basically can choose to pay from 2€ for 2h and unlimited texts to 20 for unlimited calls texts, mms and 3Gb (one offers 20Gb) and you can call on landlines in a couple of countries around the world without adding a single cent, plus all cells in US and Canada.

I think the difference is that here an landline / Internet company came into the mobile market and first made the rule of 19.99€ for an unlimited call text i.ternet subscription with no minimum period and the people embraced that. Such a thing used to be charged in the 160-200€ per month before.

People started going into Orange and Sfr shops and sing "we're leaving you for Free" - The company is called Free.

And the others had to catch up... they lowered prices on their regular subscriptions with phones and made a separate Web interface to subscribe for the discounted 19,99 offers where you can buy phones with no discounts as you would with the classical.

Also in Romania I know for a fact that now days for get a subscription is a little more expensive than keeping a prepaid card with certain options (thousands of minutes of calls pee month with texts and Internet + international calls and texts) and a great variety to choose from all for 4 to 12€ per 30 days.

Posted via CB10

Not sound to "American" but the fact that the US give mentioned even contemplated allowing or should I say making it illegal to unlock a phone is beyond "un American". Fact is some 89 idiot had his own interpretation of the law is beyond stupid. Point is if a person uses their hard earn cash they should be allowed to do what they see fit with the device.

Posted via CB10

You can buy a million-dollar car and have it serviced anywhere you want, but you can't buy a $600 device and get service anywhere you want. That in itself is morally wrong.

Posted via CB10 on my Z30!

Why the frick is that an exception? It should be the rule. If I buy a phone, it's mine. Part of the reason I buy factory unlocked phones.

Posted with my Awesome Z10 via CB10

In uk you just take phone to local market stall or get code online it costs around £5. It is a code generated from your imei number that you need to unlock your phone CB should do an article to help people unlock. In the UK it costs about an extra £30 to buy a phone already unlocked!

Tapping and flicking on my Zed 10

Unrelated issue. What really determines whether you're getting an update from BB or not is if your phone's factory unlocked or not. If it's branded, unlock status doesn't matter. You get the update on the carrier's schedule.

What's the logic here for it being illegal to unlock the phone? If I buy the phone it's my phone; I should be able to do what I want with it, no? Why after I buy sonething someone else still has the right to tell me what I can do with it? Isn't America "the land of the free" and all that?

The "concern," as expressed by the carriers, was that this magically makes people get phones on a subsidy, and then leave. Except they neglected to mention the nice little ETFs they charge.

I found that buying an unlocked phone outright was cheaper or same price than getting a subsidized phone from AT&T and signing a 2 year contract.

Examples: BlackBerry Z10 free, but extra $25 per month in bill for 24 months. So no savings over buying a Z10 unlocked for $200 outright.

iPhone 5s for $199, then $27 extra per month for 24 months. Total cost is $199 more after 2 years, compared to buying the unlocked phone outright.

The US mobile telecom carriers are moving to BYOD. And I have an unlocked phone right from the start, and no 2 year contract.

Z10STL100-3/10.2.1.2273 /CB10

That is always the case here in Ireland, but some people buy into the idea that they're getting more minutes and data...

Posted via CB10

That is so crazy, what they think that having phones that can be unlocked forever means that they're going end up like Europeans who are liberal and tolerant, wow that sounds like a horror film in the making!

Posted via CB10

If those senile fucktards in the US Congress, more specifically the US House of Representatives, can do that, and "doing something" is not a phrase anyone associates these days with the US Congress, hopefully these numbskulls in the Canadian Parliament could follow suit!

But I wouldn't hold my breath. Maybe 10 years from now. In the meantime, Canadians will continue paying some of the highest cellphone fees in the developed world and choke under the yoke of Rogers, Telus and Bell with little to no choice or alternative...

Cartman says: Screw you guys I'm going home!

Check the Canadian CRTC Code of Conduct. It's now fully implemented.

Have you compared US plans with Canadian plans? Not much difference IIRC.

Posted via CB10

That is fine and good but that Code Of Conduct the CRTC is so proud of is a big piece of shite, because it isn't worth the paper it's printed on and it has month teeth...

When, for example, I went to all carriers (Bell, Rogers, Telus, Fido etc.) a few weeks ago and in different locations, most said that the law is not very clear and that they wouldn't unlock any phone...obviously that was my own experience...instead the customer rep would suggest I should go to this business or that where it could be done for a fee...it still sounded quasi illegal...

As for the plans in the US, I've seen what my friends have and depending where you live in the States and your carrier, they definitely have a better range and choice than we do up here. Compare our shitty plans with those in Europe and the differences become even more evident!

Not saying that everywhere else is perfect, but better than the shit stain we call the Canadian telecom industry...

Cartman says: Screw you guys I'm going home!

The real question is how Carriers have been able to get away with locking a consumers phone in the first place. It shouldn't be a question of getting them unlocked plus paying for the privilege but why are they even allowed to in the first place.

Kind of like buying your gas at Shell all the time and then going down the road because you can get a better price and them saying sorry your cars locked to shell.

The stuff that Telcos have been getting away with just boggles the mind!

Posted via CB10

There's this piece of legislation called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA,) under which unlocking without carrier's permission has always been illegal. However, up until recently, an exception would be granted to phone unlocking. But the last time the exception was to be renewed (by the Librarian of the Congress,) it wasn't. And that's when everything hit the fan.

The only one thing good about communication laws in my country is that for almost 6 years now all carriers must sell unlocked phones, if you leave your contract before time you have to pay the portion left of the phone

Posted via CB10

If you purchase the phone shouldn't it be your choice on what to do with it.

Posted via CB10

Am just wondering, why the law making it legal has an expiration date? If this is something right, why should it be time bound?..

Posted via CB10

Once the value of the device is paid for through the contract, then the carrier should be required to unlock the device, no charge.

If a customer wants to switch service providers prior to contract expiry, then the remaining device balance is to be paid and the unlocking would occur. Simple.