Senate clears bill that will make it easier to unlock phones

You should be able to easily switch carriers in the U.S. once you fulfill your two-year contract, but most of the time it’s easier said than done. A new bill being reviewed in Washington plans to let you unlock your phone to take it to any carrier after your contact is over.

Yesterday the Senate passed the “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act,” which would make it legal to unlock a phone when its contract expires, reports TheHill.

“This straightforward restoring bill is about promoting consumer rights,” Leahy said when the bill was introduced last year. “When consumers finish the terms of their contract, they should be able to keep their phones and make their own decision about which wireless provider to use.”

Unlocking a phone on your own while still in a contract is still illegal, although there are third-party services that will do it for you without technically breaking the law.

It’s usually not impossible to get a phone unlocked once it’s off-contract, but the process varies from carrier to carrier in the states. And quitting a contract early costs an arm and a leg. The whole experience is anything but streamlined, so it’s nice to see some progress being made.

Now it’s up to the House to pass the bill.

  • Frank Malloy

    This helps nobody. Every carrier has their own protocol (CDMA or GSM), and within that protocol there are different frequencies. You take an AT&T phone to T-Mobile, you lose some functionality, LTE speed, etc.

    If every carrier was standardized on the same format (GSM, like the rest of the world) and frequencies, then this matters.

  • paul harrison

    This is your typical government bureaucrats trying to fix a law that should not even exist. If I want to unlock my phone while it is still under contract, I still am responsible to that carrier for an early termination fee or the monthly payments. And if I do it on my own using a service ( which may be shaky), I am a criminal. So why should I not be allowed to unlock it so I can use it overseas without paying the roaming data rates that the robbing US carriers charge? So maybe the new law will keep honest people from being criminals. Making it ok to unlock after the contract ends would at least allow the selling of phones that are locked and the new buyer could have them unlocked which cannot be done now when you are not the original owner still in good status with the carrier.

    • PMB01

      All the carriers will allow a SIM-unlock if you’re going outside the US. I did this with Verizon on an iPhone 4S with just a phone call, no issues. A full unlock is what is needed for switching US carriers.

      • Andrew Zoll

        There is no difference between an “international unlock” and a “full unlock.” They are the same.
        Source: Five years in the wireless industry.

      • PMB01

        There is a difference.

        Source: personal experience.

  • William Donelson

    I got an iPad from Vodafone UK a little over 2 years ago, with the iPad cost spread over two years, plus a service contract. Guess what? They kept charging me for it (on top of service) after two years even though I owned it. When i complained, they stonewalled me. It took over an hour and three reps before I could get them to part with a £30 refund. Scumbags.

  • Capsaicin

    How bout a bill to outlaw contracts (of any length)??? REAL help to all americans. You’d see prices go down, windfall profits go down and happier customers. 2 year contracts are bullshit.

  • Andrew Zoll

    It seems like the author has a poor understanding of carrier protocol regarding phone unlocking. Using terms like legal and illegal to describe phone unlocking are outright lies. It’s legal at any time to unlock a phone. Carriers simply deem when it is appropriate. There is no matter of legality that affects these choices.

About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath is a staff writer at Cult of Mac and co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by the likes of the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to pitch a story, share a tip, or just get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too.

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