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U.S. House clears legislation to make unlocking cellphones legal

Although most people generally don't think of it when they go to unlock their cellphone for another carrier, the process of doing so in the U.S. has been a topic of much debate involving consumers, the House of Representatives, and even the President of the United States.

For those unfamiliar, service providers like AT&T and Verizon typically lock their devices so they can only be used with their service. If unlocked, phones can be taken over to other carriers. This is hugely important for promoting healthy competition and empowering consumer choice, not to mention being very useful for travel.

Cellphone unlocking had previously been allowed but that law expired in January 2013, making the practice technically illegal within the U.S. After many months in limbo, Congress has decided to pass the unlocking bill making it once again legal, and President Barack Obama plans to sign it.

Such a silly thing to have in place, which certainly outlines how some of the laws are outdated. Sadly, it might not be the last we hear of it as the current exemption when signed is only good up until 2015.

Source: WSJ

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Reader comments

U.S. House clears legislation to make unlocking cellphones legal

104 Comments

You always could, provided you met their criteria. This is for people who choose to go 'alternate' routes and use an outside company. If you did that, technically you were breaking the law. In short, you still have to meet AT&T's criteria.

The Senate would have to vote on it (without changes requiring a committee conference) as well, then be signed by the President.

You don't need to call them. AT&T has a webpage where you can make a submission to have an unlock code emailed to you.

I need to unlock my L820 from AT&T here in El Salvador... is just an iPod Touch with Windows Phone 8.1

I use cellunlocker.net to unlock all my att lumias. It costs like $50 so total rip but at least they can do it if your esn is not blacklisted.

I've always wondered how they successfully unlock phones without ruining the IMEI number, especially when the carrier does not/refuses to do it.

I wouldn't recommend them. I asked to get a Lumia 920 unlocked. A few days after, they said it was too soon, to ask again in few days. Did so, same response. Waited 2 weeks, said it was too soon. 30 days later, unlock code not available yet.. Demanded a refund. Thankfully, I got it.

I'm not sure if the 1520 will work on Verizon's network anyway since it's GSM and Verizon uses CDMA. Or something like that.

Not the reason. But no, 1520 won't work on Verizon. Well, the GSM should work but you won't get LTE.

I think unlocking is illegal in Spain, but it's like it would be legal. Ooohhh I'm unlocking my phone I will go to prison nooolol

Assuming the laws in spain are the same as almost everywhere else in the EU, you don't have locked phones. AFAIK the entire EU except the U.K. has the opposite law ... it's illegal for carriers to lock a device to their service.

With the many exceptions of many different things in the EU, I would honestly not be surprise if Spain had a phone unlocking exception.

Well, here in Sweden there still are a couple of carrier locked phones (not sure which ones though, haven't had a locked phone myself in ages), however new legislation from this summer prohibits the carriers from charging to unlock it, so after your contract ends you get to unlock your phone for free if you happen to have bought a locked phone.

Unlocking in the Eurpean union is legal!!! the US foundend democraci the EU use it.

You can buy an phone in the UK if you want becuase it can.

Unlocking is 100% legal in Spain, in fact carriers that sell phones are obligated to do so.

I don't know where you got that from...

Its something thats been largely worthless in Canada because most 3rd party services charge the same as the service providers themselves. What would be nice is if we could cut the service provider out of the equation. Dell had access to their own codes to bad more wont do that
Isnt technically Verizon lte devices unlocked as per their agreement with fcc?

But Verizon uses CDMA, so we can't use it in Canada. It's not like the 1520 is coming here soon either so us Canadians have to unlock a 1520 to use it.

Not really. Verizon is LTE now. It only drops to CDMA when you go into a non-LTE covered area. Don't think there are any CDMA only areas left. Verizon just uses oddball LTE frequencies so no, it won't work on that point. Regular calls should work on GSM but no LTE.

In the US there is a lot of 3G/CDMA areas left. LTE is in most areas now but, there are still areas that you need 3G to fall back on.

If you got a LTE only phone on Verizon, it would be like going to the worst carrer around, as a Verizon phone will hop from LTE to 3G when needed and with out 3G support, you would be dropping calls like crazy.

It's not in the big citys, it's the subs and parts of the highways, If your in the City 99% of the time, you should not need it but, it's when you travel out a little is where you will run into problems.

3G/CDMA is left in place still because over a quarter of their customers don't have 4G phones yet. Verizon's rural coverage is not T-Mobile or Sprint. They have the best rural coverage of all the carriers.

Already got my unlocked Lumia 1020 FTW! T-Mobile can't launch the 630s and 530s of the world until the cows come home. I'm good.lol

Our country secretly likes terrorists. Has to be the reason. We are the most cocky country. We are so worried about seeming to be the "best" when its all a load of horse shit. We need to hit the reset button on our govnt and try again. Were at the point of no return. Nobody who actually has a chance to recover the country actually cares. It'll never happen. We need Lucy from the new movie to bang the doors down and tell them what there doing is wrong. Money isn't everything... But there making it that way. Haha so off topic I suppose.

I'm with you bro. Wipe out all the politicians and disallow corporations from pretending they're people. Now for step two....

Last year my state voted to ban gay marriage by public majority. Recently a judge ( ONE INDIVIDUAL) says no. One person seemingly has the power to undo the opinion/desire of millions.

I've given up on the concept of government voting.

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Maybe it's because banning gay marriage is stupid and destined to fail. Get with the times. Plus learn how the justice system works.

Well unlike the feds who forget that we are a constitutional republic, I think the individual states should decide their own. Its like saying individual states can't have their own majority ideals beliefs. I am with the times, but not supportive of the state's judicial branch undoing voter approved legislation; same thing goes with all the dang executive orders coming out of the white house. I enjoy living in the conservative south.

Unfortunately every government is flawed. Ours is just made worse by abuse and a large uninformed part of population. To each their own though I guess. Really wish I had Xavier or Phoenix's mutant powers sometimes

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This is good. Phone unlocking here in the UK is pretty common. My phone is unlocked, I'm using a Vodafone exclusive 32GB Lumia 925 on Three and loving it. :D

While I live in Europe I'm very glad to hear it. In my opinion the idea of a locked phone should not even exist and greedy carriers shouldn't even have the right to "approve" or "disapprove" updates. Our computers are not locked to ISPs, so why should phones be locked to carriers? I hope those US carriers are crying now. They already have wayy too much power in the US. I hope they continue losing it.

They tried locking netbooks to carriers, but it didn't work. Phones being locked to carriers only exist because people in North America are not even aware that cell phones cost $500+ (some of my friends ask why would someone buy an iTouch because an iPhone costs $200 :|) at least 2 year agreements in Canada are helping people see past the contract price because if you bring your own phone, they now have a carrier discount.

But you still have to pay the rest of the device's cost over the course of your contract, don't you? Personally I'd rather just pay the whole price up front and have the right to swap my carrier as often as I please. That way carriers compete by offering better & cheaper services rather than by selling exclusive devices.

In terms of service, they have been getting better recently because they haven't been able to prevent the smaller companies from undercutting them, and in turn have been forced to provide better deals without a contract.

Obviously there's more than just swapping a sim. If it's locked it means it won't accept another carrier's sim.

Usually it requires a special password to unlock a device.

The password is very hard to get correct since it is 16-32 alpha-digits long and you have to enter it correctly! Make a mistake and you back to the beginning.  This first time I unlocked my phone it took a good 4 hours since I had to take breaks.  I think it nice that they gone back to all digits now.  LOL!

Your Icon is already unlocked. It won't do you any good because Verizon's LTE frequencies aren't compatible with anyone else's.

But wouldn't the GSM frequencies still work with the other US carriers (other than Sprint)?
LTE network bands3: 4, 13
• LTE max data speed DL: 150 Mbps
• LTE max data speed UL: 50 Mbps
• WCDMA network: 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1900 MHz, 2100 MHz
• WCDMA max data speed DL: HSDPA - 21.1 Mbps
• WCDMA max data speed UL: HSUPA - 5.76 Mbps
• CDMA network bands: BC0, BC1
• CDMA max data speed DL: Rev 0 /A 2.4 Mbps /3.1 Mbps
• CDMA max data speed UL: Rev 0 /A 153.2 kbps /1.8 Mbps
• GSM network: 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1900 MHz
• GSM max data speed DL: EGPRS 236.8 kbps
• GSM max data speed UL: EGPRS 236.8 kbps
I don't know enough about it but but it seems like it would work with AT&T and T-Mobile.

Seeing how the phone is purchased and therefore your property, I don't see any justification for criminalizing which carrier you decide to use it on. I believe unlocking should be legalized indefinitely. If that were so, it might be easier to acquire more consumers by competitors improving their services and plans to pull consumers from other carriers. But we'll see.

Well, technically, when you're on contract, the carrier owns the phone until the contract is up. However. Once the contract is done and the phone is paid in full, carriers have to give the unlock code. At least in Canada they have to do it when asked because the government says so. But if it's before, there are penalties.

It doesn't matter for them whether the phone is locked or not, you still have signed a contract and thus they are sure you will pay both the phone and the connection to the network. Unlocking the phone will increase costumer satisfaction. The only drawback is that they won't sell the occasional phones to tourists anymore, on the other hand they will still sell sim cards because of the roaming costs.

In India Phones/devices are unlocked, they are not restricted to any carriers, here the carriers have no say with regard to your device except for the service you use (calling, internet, sms etc...) same goes for updates like WP8.1/ & the Amber, black. cyan.  They come straight from Microsoft/Nokia. Here you can just change the sim and you are on a different service provider. Its a good system actually.

Have you heard of sarcasm? This is an American legislative article. On the internet, especially in forums and comments its denoted with "/s"
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Try it sometime when you get a chance. Not as bad as it seems. I'm currently just making fun of those that ask about India on nearly every article.
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Thats all well and good, but dont judge the entire country on one stupid persons comments. There are bound to be a few stupid people in every country. HAHAHAHA

Frankly, I got better things to do. Ill tell u what, u come down here, I'll hand you my hockey stick and you can do the honours.

US claims to be a free country, yet, they have laws for locked phones. Freedom intensifies. US is probably the most uninteresting, uncultural, boring country, yet it gets so much attention. Op, less US (freedom intensifies) posts please? I don't care if US has a new law or if Verizon / AT&T changed their data plans or if Osama bin laden bombed another tower (and the only survivors were the ones using Nokia 3310). More wp/msft posts that are not us-related please. Freedom intensifies. Freedom is not compatible with US. Please try again later.

Funny, having to write legislation to limit the freedom of a company to conduct business the way they see fit, regardless of how it may affect their customers.

Funny, that customers have the freedom to do business with those companies in the first place and the consumer made their decision, FREELY to do so.

What the hell is wrong with people? Answer: Idiocy is the new normal.

 

BTW, it's the progressive liberals that are all about putting limits on freedom.

Just ask them, the Constitution is a flawed document, Obama believes it limits the powers of the fed to do things for the people on thier behalf. That isn't freedom. That would be called tyranny.

So, parents selling their children into slavery would also be fine in your book, I guess? All in the name of freedom of choice...

No, the customer isn't really free. We're at the mercy of coverage and who the FCC auctioned bandwidth too. The airwaves are a nationally regulated limited resource. The government just lets private enterprise operate it.

Just a heads up you're reading this on a website run by AMERICANS, hosted in AMERICA, by an AMERICAN company's servers. Florida to be exact. If you don't like our news, go make your own site for wherever your from.

'MERICA

-sincerely an Englishman in the states.

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Same in Belgium. After that, they have to unlock your phone at your request free of charge. Phone exclusivity is also limited. If a phone is distributed exclusively by a carrier, they must also sell the same phone unlocked without contract. So you are perfectly free to buy the exclusive phone at one carrier and get another carrier sim card. To my knowledge, none if the carriers is even bothering with locking phones anymore. Laws here are designed to give maximum freedom to consumers, not to companies.

Better get the unlock phones when the bill is passed and signed in to law!  It only good till 2015 so that give the consumer about 6 months left to purchase unlocked phones and then it goes back to the standard locked phones forever!  LOL!

Here in Brazil it is forbidden by law to lock the phone.
Here encourage carriers to provide quality services (but still 3g isn't good. Just 4g is the 3th best 4g of the world) and by a good price and make the customer choose for themselves, instead of holding the client to one carrier. Btw, have here even 4-sim! =P

Totally agree, so tired of buying a so-called factory unlocked phone and seeing within its info

Carrier: AT&T

Everyone should educate themselves and vote. Start with Microsoft Uservoice website and help to improve windows phone.

I don't think people realize just how cheap they are getting the latest and greatest high-end phones. You want fully unlocked phones, ok, get ready to pay a lot more for the services. Good luck with that.

Possibly not. There are services that can probably do it. The issue will be finding a carrier that will allow it on their network or even can be on their network.

Lol, its going to expire again in a few months?? Guess you guys have the lobbyists to thank for that :P. It would have been so much simpler to make it indefinite.

Any recommended reputatble companies that I can unlock an ATT Lumia 925? It was bought on Swappa and ATT wants a phone bought from an authorised dealer :(