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Freedom to Choose! Unlocked Phones Are Finally Legal in the U.S Again

Posted In Smartphone reviews - By Techtiplib on Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 With No Comments »

Many people with cell phone plans in America have dealt with high bills and hidden costs with their cell phone plans for decades with no escape, but Congress and the President have put the practice to death once again. Carriers have been “locking” phones to their networks for years, meaning that if you cancelled your phone plan, your phone was as good as a doorstop, unable to be reactivated except with the same carrier. But on August 1 of this year, President Obama signed into law the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which opened the doors for wireless users to unlock their phones and switch providers.

Unlocked Phone

According to the act, the government recommends that as an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) wireless providers are no longer permitted to keep their proprietary software locked, and must provide users switching with an unlock code to override their software. This allows users to free themselves from contract plans that contain hidden fees and charges, saving users hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. (Before the bill was signed, unlocking your phone was a crime that by some estimates could net you five years in jail.)

The End of a Questionable Practice

One of the reasons that the carriers had gotten away with this for so long was that they subsidized the cost of newer phones, often making them much cheaper – even free – than their actual cost. Users viewed this as a necessary trade-off: they were often saving a few hundred in cell phone costs, but paying just as much, if not more, in total monthly costs.

Then the wireless carriers changed their minds in 2013. T-Mobile was the first to do away with subsidies on principle, offering a lower rate in exchange for buying the phone at full price. Other carriers, in the face of analysts pointing out that the subsidies didn’t save money, but were customer traps, fell suit in the following month. But it wasn’t until a few months later when Sina Khanifar, a digital activist and entrepreneur suffering with the repercussions of bad cell phone policy (he ran a business unlocking cell phones for irritated consumers until Motorola threatened him in 2005) petitioned the White House, bringing a down a cascade of over 114,000 requests to stop the practice of locking customers. After passing the House and the Senate, the President signed the bill, and unlocking your phone was once again legal.

The Verdict: Wireless Consumers Win

In the end, what was the cost increase for consumers? According to the website Cheap Phones, the top of the line HTC M8 – retailing at $600 – is now available unlocked for $400, whereas locked versions cost between $300 and $450. The argument that subsidies were necessary to reduce cost has turned out to be false. More importantly, consumers trapped in a poor plan or one that costs too much finally have a choice. And thanks to recent legislation, they can finally take their phone with them when they make it.

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