U.S. House Approves Bill Making Smartphone Unlocking Legal, Obama Pledges to Sign it Into Law

MacRumors

macrumors bot
Original poster
Apr 12, 2001
7,458
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We're one step closer to being able to legally unlock smartphones again, as the United States House of Representatives today passed legislation that legalizes cell phone unlocking, unanimously voting in favor of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act.

The Act was approved by the Senate last week, which means the final step is presidential approval. Obama has long supported making cell phone unlocking legal again, and today pledged to sign the bill into law.

I applaud Members of Congress for passing the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act. Last year, in response to a "We the People" petition from consumers across our country, my Administration called for allowing Americans to use their phones or mobile devices on any network they choose. We laid out steps the FCC, industry, and Congress should take to ensure copyright law does not undermine wireless competition, and worked with wireless carriers to reach a voluntary agreement that helps restore this basic consumer freedom.

The bill Congress passed today is another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice, so that they can find a cell phone carrier that meets their needs and their budget. I commend Chairmen Leahy and Goodlatte, and Ranking Members Grassley and Conyers for their leadership on this important consumer issue and look forward to signing this bill into law.
The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act came about following a 2013 "We the People petition" that called for cell phone unlocking to be made legal. Cell phone unlocking first became illegal in January of 2013, after an exception in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act expired, restricting U.S. customers from shifting service to other carriers or using their devices abroad with local SIM cards.

Under the terms of the bill, consumers and third-party services will again be able to unlock cell phones and tablets without receiving express permission from carriers and without facing criminal penalties.

In December of 2013, U.S. cellular carriers and the FCC also came to an agreement over a set of voluntary principles that make it easier for wireless customers to unlock their devices and switch from carrier to carrier after a contract has been fulfilled.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Article Link: U.S. House Approves Bill Making Smartphone Unlocking Legal, Obama Pledges to Sign it Into Law
 

bigjnyc

macrumors 603
Apr 10, 2008
6,277
3,347
So what does this mean for the consumer? Does AT&T / verizon have to unlock our phones from day one? Even if purchased on subsidy?
 

fallenjt

macrumors 6502a
Jul 3, 2013
520
43
So what does this mean for the consumer? Does AT&T / verizon have to unlock our phones from day one? Even if purchased on subsidy?
No. You have to be in good standing with carriers in order to get it unlocked before the end of contract term. I had multiple iPhones unlocked for less than 1 year in with 2 year contract from ATT. They actually allow 5 unlocks a year.
 

ncbill

macrumors regular
Aug 18, 2002
225
1
Current models or just future releases?

I ask because Sprint us notorious for telling people Sprint can't unlock their phones - not refusing, but essentially claiming that the firmware/software can't be unlocked to work on another carrier.
 

macduke

macrumors G4
Jun 27, 2007
10,566
14,058
Central U.S.
Finally. All of our problems are now solved. Congress should just take the rest of the year off so they can pat themselves on the back for a job well done. But before they do, why not vote in favor of a pay increase for themselves? They deserve it.
 

cgc

macrumors 6502a
May 30, 2003
715
23
Utah
This didn't seem like it meant carriers HAD to unlock phones...just that it wasn't illegal to do so (e.g. can't brick you).
 

QCassidy352

macrumors G4
Mar 20, 2003
10,572
2,665
Bay Area
Yay!! Until we start having to buy all smartphones cash up front at full price.
They don't really need to do that because they can still lock you into a contract that covers the cost of any subsidy, so even if you take your phone and go elsewhere, you're on the hook for either the monthly charges or the ETF (which will, again, cover their subsidy).

All of that said, I now buy my phones cash up front at full price and get:
- lower monthly bill, sufficient to make the two year cost of ownership lower than with the subsidy
- as a sub point to the above, with a subsidy, you keep paying the same high monthly cost even after the contract is up and the subsidy is "paid off," which means if you ever keep a phone longer than 2 years, you're REALLY getting ripped off
- no contract
- unlocked from day 1, even before this legislation

So all in all, I'm a big fan of cash up front with no contract. Provided of course you have the cash in hand up front.
 

Parasprite

macrumors 68000
Mar 5, 2013
1,691
140
Something tells me that Sprint will find their way around this. They're the only one we're talking about here anyway.
Sprint already have a way around it. All the bill will do is make unlocking cell phones legal, it doesn't say that Sprint has to do it or make it easy for you.

Still a step in the right direction as far as I'm concerned, particularly since carriers contribute extremely little to the iPhone (in terms of manufacturing I mean).

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They don't really need to do that because they can still lock you into a contract that covers the cost of any subsidy, so even if you take your phone and go elsewhere, you're on the hook for either the monthly charges or the ETF (which will, again, cover their subsidy).

All of that said, I now buy my phones cash up front at full price and get:
- lower monthly bill, sufficient to make the two year cost of ownership lower than with the subsidy
- as a sub point to the above, with a subsidy, you keep paying the same high monthly cost even after the contract is up and the subsidy is "paid off," which means if you ever keep a phone longer than 2 years, you're REALLY getting ripped off
- unlocked from day 1, even before this legislation

So all in all, I'm a big fan of cash up front with no contract. Provided of course you have the cash in hand up front.
How many carriers in the US actually drop prices for unsubsidized phones or after contract? I was under the impression that most of them don't differentiate, and are part of the reason why unsubsidized phones aren't very popular there.
 

iMerik

macrumors 6502a
May 3, 2011
573
346
Upper Midwest
This is good news for consumers. But politically speaking, it's just embarrassing anymore to me when people praise Congress for passing a bill and being able to work together. That should be the norm, not some wild, crazy exception that only happens on bills that have no political consequences for the politicians or that can't be used against the other party.

I've seen several Facebook posts this year of friends asking if anyone has a used smart phone to sell them, and they've all needed one from a carrier I'm not with. This bill will make selling phones easier.
 

cmwade77

macrumors 65816
Nov 18, 2008
1,051
1,104
Sprint already have a way around it. All the bill will do is make unlocking cell phones legal, it doesn't say that Sprint has to do it or make it easy for you.

Still a step in the right direction as far as I'm concerned, particularly since carriers contribute extremely little to the iPhone (in terms of manufacturing I mean).

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How many carriers in the US actually drop prices for unsubsidized phones or after contract? I was under the impression that most of them don't differentiate, and are part of the reason why unsubsidized phones aren't very popular there.
Well, there are a few carriers that don't have contracts and offer lower prices. Some that come to midn are:
MetroPCS (Also Offers free phones though)
T-Mobile
Straight Talk
Republic Wireless
Freedom Pop

So, yes it is possible to get an unsubsidized phones and a lower price. Freedom Pop offers free cell phone service (limited number of minutes though) and depending on your phone, you may be able to bring it with you.

There are of course other options as well, but not AT&T, Verizon or Sprint.
 

Piggie

macrumors G3
Feb 23, 2010
8,290
2,476
So they will just need an "administration charge" from you to unlock your phone :)
 

gnasher729

macrumors P6
Nov 25, 2005
16,510
3,102
So what does this mean for the consumer? Does AT&T / verizon have to unlock our phones from day one? Even if purchased on subsidy?
Probably yes. However, you probably have a 24 month contract with them, and that contract stays valid. So you are free to move to another phone company, as long as you keep paying the old one.

Buying a subsidised phone with a 24 month contract with the intent of unlocking it, selling the phone for cash and not paying the contract, that would probably be fraud.