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.