Mar, 08 2013

Most of us already know the story. On January 26, 2013, it became effectively became illegal under the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) for consumers to unlock a cell phone provided from a carrier for use on another network, unless they had approval from the original carrier. That means where you could normally unlock, say, an AT&T phone for use on T-Mobile’s newly refarmed 1900MHz network, it has now become illegal. Just about everyone has been up in arms over the law, sparking a petition seeking legislative action, even gaining the attention of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who stated that the unlocking ban “raises competition concerns,” as well as “innovation concerns.”

Well, AT&T has finally decided to weigh in on the matter in a post found on the company’s Public Policy Blog. Their thoughts? “Chillax, boo, we’ll still unlock our cellphones for you… but there are some caveats.”

“While we think the Librarian’s careful decision was reasonable, the fact is that it has very little impact on AT&T customers.  As we make clear on our website, if we have the unlock code or can reasonably get it from the manufacturer, AT&T currently will unlock a device for any customer whose account has been active for at least sixty days; whose account is in good standing and has no unpaid balance; and who has fulfilled his or her service agreement commitment.  If the conditions are met we will unlock up to five devices per account per year. We will not unlock devices that have been reported lost or stolen.”

60 days. Good standing. No longer on contract. Sounds reasonable enough. If you’re a new AT&T customer and buy a subsidized phone for $200, you’ll have to wait until your current contract is up before you can unlock that phone and sell it to someone else for use on another network. The problem? Those people who buy used locked AT&T phones for use on other networks — they’re the ones getting stiffed. Well, those and unsavory types who sell falsely reported lost or stolen smartphones.

I have sort of mixed feelings about the whole thing. While I agree this kinda sucks for Android junkies looking to refresh their handset with a new one every 6 months by selling their phones on eBay/Craigslist/etc, there’s really nothing stopping anyone from selling their phone to someone already on AT&T’s network. I guess the real issue is with non-AT&T customers looking to score a used-deal on an AT&T phone for use on T-Mobile or in another country, and of course, isn’t something AT&T seems too concerned with.

Curious to hear your thoughts on the matter. Do you think AT&T’s stance on the whole matter is unreasonable? Or do feel like they really shouldn’t have an obligation to provide unlocking services for non-customers?

[via AT&T Public Policy Blog | MobileBurn]

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