The Cell Phone Unlocking Saga

And the saga continues. If you’re unfamiliar with this saga, the Librarian of Congress has the power to approve exemptions to the DMCA (the Digital Millenium Copyright Act) for three years at a time, after which the exemptions are required to be renewed. In 2006 and 2010, the Librarian of Congress allowed users to unlock their phones for use on any carrier. In 2012, the Librarian decided that it shouldn’t be legal to unlock your phone without the original carrier’s permission.

After a “We the People” petition to the White House garnered over 114,000 signatures, the White House responded that they support the right of cell phone unlocking, but that the Librarian of Congress has the power to make or break the exemptions, and that Congress will need to create laws to change this.

This brings us to the Congress hearing today, June 6th 2013. The two testifying witnesses and the politicians who were there all agreed that people should be able to switch carriers without repercussions. This indicates that one of the many proposed legislation to make this process legal will be considered and hopefully passed.

Now, why should you, the average American care about this? I don’t plan on leaving my phone carrier anytime soon, so why does this matter? Well, do you plan on traveling out of the country? US carriers charge exorbitant international roaming rates. Imagine ordering a SIM card from a local carrier in the target country and paying a fraction of the roaming price for phone, text or data. How about if you want to sell your phone? Take an iPhone on AT&T for example. Currently, it’s locked to AT&T. If you want to sell it, to recoup some of your investment, you are limited to AT&T customers. If you unlocked it, you could sell to T-Mobile and international customers, as well as AT&T customers. This would also generate a price premium for the unlocked phone, because people don’t have to do the work to unlock it. What if you break your unlocked iPhone on T-Mobile and want a new one? You could go and buy an unlocked replacement. (Now obviously, because T-Mobile now offers the iPhone and AT&T will unlock your phone after your contract is up, this point is moot, but you see my point).

So hope cell phone unlocking becomes legal. It’s the best for you, me and everyone else (except the cell carriers, but they’re jerks anyway). Stay trollish readers.

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