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Congress Makes It Illegal To Unlock Smartphones Starting Tomorrow


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#1 OFFLINE   CoyoteQ

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 04:38 PM

Owning a smartphone is great fun, but owning an unlocked smartphone is even better. Without ties to a specific carrier, users can take their devices overseas and have their choice of service providers. When at home in the States, these users can walk tall, knowing that no carrier has absolute control over their device. And while they may never have cause to exercise the right to leave a carrier, it’s always nice knowing the option is there.

A new federal mandate is about to remove this free and easy feeling when a new rule goes into effect this Saturday. The Library of Congress ruled late last October that it shall be illegal to unlock a cellular device without the permission of the carrier who locked it in the first place.

The Library of Congress handles all the rules for the odious Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA) and has deemed it inappropriate for users to unlock themselves from the chains of the carriers.

The new rule states: “The marketplace has evolved such that there is now a wide array of unlocked phone options available to consumers. While it is true that not every wireless device is available unlocked, and wireless carriers’ unlocking polices are not free from all restrictions, the record clearly demonstrates that there is a wide range of alternatives from which consumers may choose in order to obtain an unlocked wireless phone.”

This new rule does not necessarily make it illegal to have and own an unlocked phone, but it does make it illegal to use another service to have your device unlocked. Going forward, customers who want an unlocked device must get it directly from the carrier or with the carrier’s express permission. For instance, Apple began selling unlocked GSM versions of their popular iPhone late last November. These phones are sold with the permission of the respective carriers like AT&T and will remain legal in the eyes of the Library of Congress.

This law has purportedly been passed to ensure that the carriers who provided these devices with a steep subsidized discount are able to keep customers on their network, thereby receiving these discounts via monthly subscriptions. When a user buys an expensive iPhone with a subsidy and then leaves the carrier, that carrier is left to foot the rest of the bill.

When this law was passed in October, the Library of Congress issued a 90-day grace period to unlock devices. That 90-day period ends on Saturday.

As you might expect, some cell phone owners are none too pleased with this development and have taken to the White House’s petitioning system to have the law overturned.

“As of January 26, consumers will no longer be able unlock their phones for use on a different network without carrier permission, even after their contract has expired,” reads the online petition, which at the time of this writing has received 4,315 votes of the necessary 100,000.

“Consumers will be forced to pay exorbitant roaming fees to make calls while traveling abroad. It reduces consumer choice, and decreases the resale value of devices that consumers have paid for in full.”

Unless this petition can get another 95,000 votes or so by the end of the day, those who want to take advantage of an unlocked phone have but a few remaining hours to free their phones.

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#2 OFFLINE   chicken wing

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 04:47 PM

Yep, taking away freedom one day at a time.
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#3 OFFLINE   Craig Simpson

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 06:07 PM

OK, so wait. If I'm reading it right, they aren't actually not allowing you to have unlocked smart phones, they are just not allowing you to unlock one you purchase from a carrier under a contract, right? Or am I missing something? For example, the deal I have with my carrier is that I paid for the phone and they charge me for its usage. If I walk away to another carrier, we just switch the cards and part ways. That is still legal under this, isn't it?
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#4 OFFLINE   Flipper

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 07:41 PM

As ruled on by the Librarian of Congress who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. Who knew the Librarian of Congress held the power to make policy decisions...
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#5 OFFLINE   CoyoteQ

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 08:42 PM

OK, so wait. If I'm reading it right, they aren't actually not allowing you to have unlocked smart phones, they are just not allowing you to unlock one you purchase from a carrier under a contract, right? Or am I missing something? For example, the deal I have with my carrier is that I paid for the phone and they charge me for its usage. If I walk away to another carrier, we just switch the cards and part ways. That is still legal under this, isn't it?

Not as I am understanding it. Only if the manufacturer/carrier was offering you that phone unlocked to start with when you bought it.
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#6 OFFLINE   CoyoteQ

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 08:43 PM

Yep, taking away freedom one day at a time.

Don't get me started. :munch_h4h:
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#7 OFFLINE   chicken wing

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 09:24 PM

OK, so wait. If I'm reading it right, they aren't actually not allowing you to have unlocked smart phones, they are just not allowing you to unlock one you purchase from a carrier under a contract, right? Or am I missing something? For example, the deal I have with my carrier is that I paid for the phone and they charge me for its usage. If I walk away to another carrier, we just switch the cards and part ways. That is still legal under this, isn't it?


Basically, you do not "own" the phone even if you paid for it so therefore, you are in "possession" of the carriers property. What they are saying is that you do not have the right to tamper with the carriers property which unlocking a locked phone is. And yes, the carrier can tell what phone you are using, at least T-Mobile can.

“Consumers will be forced to pay exorbitant roaming fees to make calls while traveling abroad. It reduces consumer choice, and decreases the resale value of devices that consumers have paid for in full.”


That's the jist of it right there. Unless a phone came unlocked carriers, I believe, can not resell the phone. As far as I know, all the carriers have "phone upgrade plan" where they will "purchase" your old phone and give you a discount for a new phone. They refurbish the old phone but if it's unlocked it might be useless for them.

The carriers are just threatening their subscribers in a round about way and the government is just saying "go for it with our blessing".
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#8 ONLINE   Avsfreak18

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 10:08 PM

well good thing Im not too big on DCMA compliance to begin with.....
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#9 OFFLINE   SgtFrenchy

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 01:53 AM

Ah, this is why I still have the same phone for like 5 years.
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#10 OFFLINE   CoyoteQ

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 01:57 AM

Ah, this is why I still have the same phone for like 5 years.

You're lucky. It's kinda unreal that your carrier even still supports it. None of this law means shit to me...I don't use unlocked phones but I still can't stand seeing other peoples choices and freedoms limited.

He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent which will reach to himself. - Thomas Paine (1737-1809), Dissertation on First Principles of Government, 1795

In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was nobody left to speak up. - Reverend Martin Niemoller, Germany, 1930's

The history of liberty is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it. - Woodrow Wilson Speech in New York, September 9, 1912

I couldn't help myself. I'll stop now. :blush:
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#11 ONLINE   Twiggy

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 05:23 AM

OK, so wait. If I'm reading it right, they aren't actually not allowing you to have unlocked smart phones, they are just not allowing you to unlock one you purchase from a carrier under a contract, right? Or am I missing something? For example, the deal I have with my carrier is that I paid for the phone and they charge me for its usage. If I walk away to another carrier, we just switch the cards and part ways. That is still legal under this, isn't it?


Interesting. Over here we don't pay for the phone up front if going through a carrier. They will charge say $50 for the phone plan per month, but you then pay an additional $15 or so per month to cover the cost of the phone. So until your contract runs out (Usually 2 years) you don't actually own it. You're kinda doing a layby for it.

You can go in with your own phone already and use that and not worry about the phone repayment, but yeah. That's that lol
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#12 OFFLINE   Craig Simpson

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 09:57 AM

Interesting. Over here we don't pay for the phone up front if going through a carrier. They will charge say $50 for the phone plan per month, but you then pay an additional $15 or so per month to cover the cost of the phone. So until your contract runs out (Usually 2 years) you don't actually own it. You're kinda doing a layby for it.

You can go in with your own phone already and use that and not worry about the phone repayment, but yeah. That's that lol


We have lots of plans like that, too, but we also have carriers that you can buy the phone and sign up with them and terminate at any time and the phone is still yours. I've done that with my kids' and my wife's phone and will with mine when this *$#^&!&# contract expires near the end of this year.
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