Unlocking a smartphone for use on another carrier is no longer illegal in the US, after a bill was passed in Congress, in what President Barack Obama has described as “another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice.”
Previously, you would have had to buy a phone outright and then use a SIM-only contract, which isn’t economical for most – especially for iPhone owners. Alternatively, customers would have to take out a contract with a carrier that includes a phone – but then they would be locked in to the carrier while using the phone, which prevents them ever switching to another carrier if they want to carry on using that phone even when the contract ends. However, now users will have the choice of using their phone on a different carrier when their contract ends. This is good news for consumers, as it means more competition, better prices and data packages.
Unlocking was legal from 2006 to 2012, but it was made illegal again in 2013 because the Copyright Office ruled that unlocking phones was against the Digital Millennium Copyright act. A petition opposing the decision was signed by over 114 000 individuals, and eventually led to this current bill, which was passed by a unanimous vote. It is now to be sent to the Whitehouse to be formally brought into law.
Sina Khanifar, the petition’s author, wrote “a whole generation worth of voters have grown up with cell phones and understand what it means to unlock their devices. So when the Librarian of Congress removed the unlocking exemption, people reacted strongly.”
And who can blame them? An unlocked phone has a number of benefits, especially with those who like to travel, or travel for work. Foreign networks can be used instead of roaming services, which can lead to savings on messaging as well as a better service.
The legislation will be reviewed again in 2015, and then every three years after that. It is entirely possible that it could once again be repealed, but it seems unlikely given that the House of Representatives were so in favour of the bill.