Senate passes bill to make cellphone unlocking legal again


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You all know the drill. You buy a phone from AT&T or other wireless provider and the phone is tied down to their specific. For those looking to take their smartphone elsewhere, 1998’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act actually made it illegal for anyone to unlock their own cellphone. It wasn’t until 2006 that the Library of Congress provided an exemption that allowed consumers to unlock their phones for the sole purpose of changing providers. Only problem is that exemption expired in 2013 (late 2012).

If you thought consumers were just going to be SOL from here on out, Senate has passed a new bill that will once again makes cellphone unlocking legal. Announced in a press release by Senator Patrick Leahy, The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act allows consumers to unlock their cellphone — either “professionally” or by themselves — for use on different networks once their current contract is up.

It never made much sense that consumers couldn’t modify a phone they already own and made even less sense when you factor in those who purchase a secondhand device were often times left out in the cold. While cellphone unlocking isn’t permanently legal, a new exemption will be in place in place (that will also need to be renewed again later) and grants 3rd parties the right to unlock the phones.

Once President Obama signs it into law, expect to see signs for “cellphone unlocking” services arriving at mom and pop shops around the country (or even online) in the coming weeks. Given the split of CDMA and GSM devices between the major 4 networks in the US, this might not sound like the best news. Just keep in mind with VoLTE coming fast down the pipeline, it’s possible we could one day see an AT&T device making voice calls on Verizon’s network.

Chris Chavez
I've been obsessed with consumer technology for about as long as I can remember, be it video games, photography, or mobile devices. If you can plug it in, I have to own it. Preparing for the day when Android finally becomes self-aware and I get to welcome our new robot overlords.

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  1. Has anyone actually been prosecuted under DMCA for unlocking their phone?

  2. I’ve unlocked every android device I’ve owned (with HACKs, instead of $$codes$$) and will continue doing so despite any backward law. I paid for it; it’s mine. Increases the resale value as well.

    I’ve also been known to J-Walk from time to time.

    1. I’ve only unlocked 3 devices my HTC g2 to try out simple mobile when I heard about the AT&T T-Mobile buyout. That one was smooth they just gave me the code. But recently T-Mobile sent us a bs bill full of ridiculous charges. So I went to have my s4 and my sisters (formally mine) s3 unlocked they refused to give the codes I’m sure it’s because they knew we were leaving. So I just bought the codes online. Did not care what the law said. Especially for the s4 I owned the device outright since the day I got it. The s3 on the other hand still owed a ballance on but who cares. If a company is going to try to screw a customer they should be free to take their device elsewhere. Now I am enjoying straight talk with the AT&T network so I get better coverage now.

    2. Jaywalking?! You monster!

    3. Gotta love Android. just curious, is iOS this easy to unlock?

      1. I don’t think so. Then again I’ve never owned an iPhone.

      2. Unlocking it is pretty easy and goes through the same process as Android. Get the code, change the SIM, and you’re on another network.

  3. no need to unlock Nexus devices

  4. *happy dance*

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