Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Cell Phone Unlocking Bill Passes Congress

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 15 comments

Americans are one step closer to being able to "unlock" their cell phones and change mobile carriers. Today (July 25) the House of Representatives just unanimously — yes, unanimously — passed a bill that would it legal to switch mobile carriers on the same mobile device, also called "unlocking" the phone.

That means that if you purchased your phone with an AT&T contract, once that contract expires you're free to begin a new contract with T-Mobile on the same device. Called the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, the bill is a win for consumers, as it will give them more control over their smartphone devices. Now all that remains before the bill becomes law is for President Obama to sign it.

MORE: iPhone 5s vs Samsung Galaxy S5 - Smartphone Face-Off

The bill does not forbid "bulk unlocking," or companies that specialize in reselling unlocked phones or helping consumers unlock their phones. However, it doesn't expressly allow it either; the bill makes no mention of bulk unlocking. Earlier versions of the bill explicitly banned bulk unlocking, but the Senate bill nixed that part of the bill, and the House made no changes to the Senate's version before passing it.

While significant, the bill won't actually change much now, since the major U.S. mobile carriers —AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular —agreed to allow unlocking back in December 2013.

Unlocking a cell phone first became illegal in 1998, under section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. However, between 2009 and 2013, the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress granted an exemption to section 1201. This exemption expired in 2012.

Jill Scharr is a staff writer at Tom's Guide. Follow her at @JillScharr and on Google+. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Discuss
Ask a Category Expert

Create a new thread in the Streaming Video & TVs forum about this subject

Example: Notebook, Android, SSD hard drive

This thread is closed for comments
  • 0 Hide
    bigpinkdragon286 , July 25, 2014 7:32 PM
    Most phones are not compatible from one network to the next, and those that are, have limited choice in which network you can even switch to. A red herring perhaps, as this hardly seems a benefit to many?
  • 2 Hide
    deftonian , July 25, 2014 8:14 PM
    "Today (July 25) the House of Representatives just unanimously — yes, unanimously — passed a bill that would it legal to switch mobile carriers on the same"

    Missed a word - a bill that would MAKE it legal
  • 0 Hide
    thundervore , July 25, 2014 8:50 PM
    This is just useless.

    Fact of the matter is that when you buy a subsidized phone from a carrier or they give you the phone for free especially smart phones they lock you in for the contract.

    That contract if completed with the requirements for the phone makes you pay the full unsubsidized price + more when the 2 years are completed. Now if you buy a CDMA phone you can only take it to another CDMA network (Sprint, Verizon, Virgin Mobile, Metro PCS, etc) and if you buy a GSM phone you can only take it to another GSM network (Att, Tmobile, etc)

    So it is best to just buy your own unlocked GSM or CDMA phone and use it on the carrier you choose.
  • Display all 15 comments.
  • 1 Hide
    Bean007 , July 25, 2014 10:47 PM
    @bigpinkdragon286
    That only applies to the Data as far as the difference in 3G and such. You can still use normal calling and T-Mobile has been putting up towers that use the same 3G Tech as AT&T's so that people with unlocked iPhones could use 3G service on T-Mobile. Of course that was before T-Mobile was getting the iPhones.
  • -2 Hide
    bigpinkdragon286 , July 26, 2014 4:58 AM
    I'm not talking about data. The major carriers use different radio technologies, Bean007. Why do you think there were different versions of the iPhone and others produced? I seriously doubt you can use a phone with a GSM radio on a CDMA network with much success, even if you could get the network owner to activate your phone on it. :-)
  • 2 Hide
    Bean007 , July 26, 2014 11:20 AM
    Quote:
    I'm not talking about data. The major carriers use different radio technologies, Bean007. Why do you think there were different versions of the iPhone and others produced? I seriously doubt you can use a phone with a GSM radio on a CDMA network with much success, even if you could get the network owner to activate your phone on it. :-)


    And why would somebody buy a phone that's CDMA when there on a GSM Network. You buy a GSM phone.
  • 1 Hide
    fkr , July 26, 2014 2:01 PM
    i work for verizon and they have been unlocking phones for a while if you jump through the hoops. they have a knowledge base article speaking about what the procedure is.

    this is good news for many people as they will unlock your phone (they always have for people going overseas so that you can insert another sim card and get service). yes you will be restricted to other carriers that use the same type of network but many times you can early terminate your for a couple hundred bucks and end up saving money inthe long run by going to cricket or somebody. these cheap services work really well if you live in a metropolitan area
  • 0 Hide
    brandonjclark , July 26, 2014 8:11 PM
    "The bill does not forbid "bulk unlocking," or companies that specialize in reselling unlocked phones or helping consumers unlock their phones. However, it doesn't expressly allow it either;"

    It doesn't expressly allow it? What country do you think we live in?
  • 0 Hide
    lpedraja2002 , July 27, 2014 1:56 PM
    Quote:
    This is just useless.

    Fact of the matter is that when you buy a subsidized phone from a carrier or they give you the phone for free especially smart phones they lock you in for the contract.

    That contract if completed with the requirements for the phone makes you pay the full unsubsidized price + more when the 2 years are completed. Now if you buy a CDMA phone you can only take it to another CDMA network (Sprint, Verizon, Virgin Mobile, Metro PCS, etc) and if you buy a GSM phone you can only take it to another GSM network (Att, Tmobile, etc)

    So it is best to just buy your own unlocked GSM or CDMA phone and use it on the carrier you choose.


    I disagree with you. Depending on what sort of "offer" you get you can actually be better off on a 2 year contract than buying your phone separately. In my case when I ended my 2 year contract with Claro which included an LG Optimus 7 for $100 I decided to buy my own phone and choose a new plan that met my criteria. My budget for the plan was $59.99 or $69.99 and after much research the only reliable options were the big carriers which was no surprise but buying an unlocked phone meant spending more than $350 for a better model than what I had. The Nexus 4 wasn't on stock by that time and it never was in the time I was willing to wait so I called ATT and unlocked my dad's iPhone 4 and used that until a good offer came along. On Christmas I signed up with Claro again and received an LG G2 for free and a new 2 year contract @ $69.99. The phone's price along with similar models were pushing the $500 mark unlocked so in the long term I would pay less than if I had bought the phone separately and with the sturdy case I bought on amazon the phone should last me well for 2 years and I can unlock it then and used it on another carrier if I so choose.
  • 1 Hide
    mrmez , July 27, 2014 10:33 PM
    'murica!
    Home of the free, and perpetually enslaved.

    I don't know how you people can put up with such BS from companies.

    A bit different in Aus...
    The vast majority of phones under contract can be easily unlocked at any time to work with any carrier. Handy when travelling overseas.
  • 1 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , July 28, 2014 12:58 AM
    Quote:
    'murica!
    Home of the free, and perpetually enslaved.

    I don't know how you people can put up with such BS from companies.

    A bit different in Aus...
    The vast majority of phones under contract can be easily unlocked at any time to work with any carrier. Handy when travelling overseas.


    Seconded. And that BS about different radio tech? OMG, is that for real? Everywhere else in the world you buy the phone and pop in any SIM you want without any BS. Worst that might happen is that you bought a phone that doesn't support all major LTE bands.
  • 1 Hide
    vampyiere6 , July 28, 2014 2:34 AM
    and here in eu it has always worked to change carrior to any phone just buy a phone and then choose what carrier you want
  • 0 Hide
    ubercake , July 28, 2014 5:12 AM
    Let's face it, the U.S. government is run by corporations. This new bill seems all good, but somehow consumers will pay either way.

    If they can't lock you into the carrier based on the device, then look for certain exclusive devices to become a lot more expensive.

    One way or another, they are going to get our money.
  • -2 Hide
    velocityg4 , July 28, 2014 5:19 AM
    This was already legal. What was at issue was being able to run hacks to forcefully unlock phones breaking the DMCA or some such oppressive law that. This law changes nothing based on what I have read about it.
  • 0 Hide
    ntrceptr , July 28, 2014 9:31 AM
    Yeah the comment on different radio tech. I dunno what they are talking about....get a phone from this century. Mine has all the various radios and just need to swap the SIM card and it'll work anywhere.
Tom’s guide in the world
  • Germany
  • France
  • Italy
  • Ireland
  • UK
Follow Tom’s guide
Subscribe to our newsletter
  • add to twitter
  • add to facebook
  • ajouter un flux RSS