Asof this past weekend itis now a violation of federal law to unlock your cellphone without your carriers consent.
For a few brief years it was legal to do so, but this rule change, at the hands of the Librarian of Congress, is the result of a review of the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act).
There has been a lot of outrage about this change to the law. But really, I largely fail to see why.
Originally the right to unlock ones cellphone was allowed because really, consumers had little if any options to buy one unlocked. But that is no longer the case. Even the top phones, such as Apples Iphone Google Nexus 4. SamsungGalaxy etc can be purchased unlocked. Indeed, a quick search at electronics box store Best Buy reveals close to 100 unlocked phones available- including a large selection of high end smartphones.
And let’s face it- the cellular market in the US operates differently then much of the world. Most people buy a heavily subsidized phone from a carrier, which the carrier then makes bac (and then some) the subsidy over the 2 year contract one agrees to. (for example- the Iphone can be had for around $200 with a 2 year contract, while the cost without a contract is around $650.
So obviously carriers don’t want to give you a phone for less then 1/3 of the cost and then have you stop paying your bill and move the phone to another carrier. And most carriers will temporarily unlock your under contract phone for you if you plan to be travelling.
And of course, the law only applies to new cellphones purchased under contract. So if you buy one or are given one whether new or used you can legally unlock it. (caveat: that’s assuming it wasn’t stolen or was purchased under contract since the law goes into effect and still has contract remaining on it).
Best summary of the situation I’ve found here.
While I have some reservations with the laws swirling around this issue (such as the 9th circuit ruling we “rent” the software on these phones rather then own them), as well as some carriers policies that make buying out the contract unfair (ie: you get a subsidized phone on a carrier- move to an area where there service is horrible, and have to pay far more to end the contract then if you had just bought an unlocked phone)…in general it seems to me much of the whining has been from people that either don’t understand the law, or who want something for nothing- essentially want a carrier to give them a loan to buy the phone and then have the freedom to walk away without repaying that loan.