Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Unlocking Your Phone is Now Illegal in the US

Don't like AT&T's service, but want one of their exclusive phones? The solution used to be easy. One could simply buy the device, remove the SIM restrictions, and activate TMobile's service on the phone. There used to be freedom of choice in the product you purchased and the service you paid for. Now, you can get fined up to $500,000 and up to 5 years in prison just for unlocking your device. The updated Digital Millenium Copyright Act now forbids customers from unlocking their phones without carrier permission, forcing them to ask (and most likely pay a fee) to unlock it.

An exemption placed in 2006 allowed the legal use of unlocking devices, even though it violated user agreements for carriers. Just last October, the Library of Congress and the US Copyright Office overturned that exemption, allowing a 90-day transition period before the law came into effect. That time just ran out this weekend, and we will soon see dozens of tech geeks thrown into prison for playing around with their cell phones. The aforementioned penalties are only for the FIRST OFFENSE! The fines and jailtime can DOUBLE for consecutive violations.

Why are they doing this? It's a simple matter of advertising. A carrier pays millions of dollars to retain an exclusive handset model. If that model has enough hype, consumers have no choice but to sign a contract with the carrier if they want that specific device. This gives the carriers guaranteed revenue from customers commited to long contracts, all thanks to a few well-shot commercials of that cell phone. If someone unlocks the phone, however, the chain of advertising breaks, and allows the customer to choose their own service with the device of their choice. Instead of the true capitalist spirit of "whoever has the best customer service wins," carriers are relying on coercion and fine print to force a revenue stream from unsuspecting consumers; taking away their free will.

A 'We the People' petition has been filed to rescind the decision or make unlocking permanently legal, and has reached well over the required 25,000 signatures demanding a response from the White House. With the response, we'll see who has higher priority: The carriers or the customers.

- Caleb Smith
Tech Editor



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