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posted by martyb on Saturday February 14 2015, @10:20AM   Printer-friendly
from the freeeeedom! dept.

Two Soylentils wrote in with news that US carriers must now unlock phones upon request, with some restrictions.

Wireless Carriers Must Now Unlock Your Phone When Your Contract is Fulfilled

Andrew Moore-Crispin reports that beginning this week, as result of an agreement major wireless carriers made with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in late 2013, wireless carriers in the US must unlock your phone as soon as a contract term is fulfilled if asked to do so unless a phone is connected in some way to an account that owes the carrier money. Carriers must also post unlocking policies on their websites (here are links for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile), provide notice to customers when their devices are eligible for unlocking, respond to unlock requests within two business days, and unlock devices for deployed military personnel. So why unlock your phone? Unlocking a phone allows it to be used on any compatible network, regardless of carrier which could result in significant savings. Or you could go with an MVNO, stay on the same network, and pay much less for the same cellular service.

February 11, 2015: Smartphone Independence Day in USA

The Register reports

American mobile owners can now legally unlock their smartphones again from their network carriers--provided you've finished paying for them.

Phone unlocking, allowing it to subscribe to a different network, was perfectly legal in the US until 2012, when the practice was banned in a review of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by the Librarian of Congress. The surprise shift outlawed the legal practice and set the internet aflutter.

An online petition to the White House garnered at least 100,000 signatures. President Obama urged Congress to act on the matter, saying his hands were tied.

18 months later the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act was passed and signed by the President, but by that time the telcos had already agreed to unlocking privately.

From today all phones, as well as tablets, can be instructed to subscribe to any network, provided the device is compatible with the telco's cell towers.

[...]the new rules are important because they allow resellers to unlock handsets before sales, meaning customers will get more handsets to choose from and--[we hope]--some cheaper deals as well.

In their page What you need to know about the new phone unlocking rules, Greenbot notes

If you're already a customer of the carrier you're contacting, you won't have to pay a thing, but if you're a former customer, you'll probably have to pay a minor fee of some sort. So get your phone unlocked BEFORE you cancel service!

Military personnel can have their phones unlocked for free as long as they have proof of deployment orders, regardless if they're currently a customer or not.

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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by iamjacksusername on Saturday February 14 2015, @03:11PM

    by iamjacksusername (1479) on Saturday February 14 2015, @03:11PM (#144956)

    I think the best thing about LTE is finally giving the US a more-or-less unified cellular market. E.g., you could unlock a Sprint phone but good luck finding a carrier to use it on. Maybe Boost or some other regional provider? I still think it is a sin that the FCC allows the carriers to chop up the frequencies. The auction terms should simply have been that the licensee is obligated to allow competing services to operate on those frequencies for some fee. That way, the whole 700 Mhz spectrum could be used for LTE throughout the country instead of having slices of it sectioned off to VzW and ATT.

    From a technical perspective, other carriers would be forced to buy time on competitors' towers forcing a kind of detente between them and reducing the incentive to price gouge. The constant pressure that a well-funded third-party could simply start buying up airtime across the country would prevent the monopolistic pricing we have seen in the past few years. Look at the market disruption T-Mobile has caused; from my own experience, they have single-handedly caused my ATT bill to be cut in half.

    I am still unhappy that ATT and VzW stopped the TMobile and Sprint merger - that would have been a viable threat to the duopoly. Sprint coverage with Tmobile service would have been a major threat to both ATT and VzW. Sprint and TMobile both have a long history of reselling network capacity to third parties; a combined network would have created a major US competitor with international support (remember - Tmobile has a huge world-wide footprint) and an armada of 3rd party service providers leveraging that network access to vacuum up all the niche subscribers.

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  • (Score: 1) by schad on Saturday February 14 2015, @06:44PM

    by schad (2398) on Saturday February 14 2015, @06:44PM (#144990)

    It's basically a repeat of the regional monopolies, which the government for some inexplicable reason thinks is better in some way than an ordinary monopoly. The only difference is that instead of "You live in X, therefore your phone company is Y" you get "You want X MHz, therefore your carrier is Y." Which is actually worse. At least theoretically, if you really didn't like the phone company, you could move and get a new one. But if your phone only works at X MHz, then, no matter where in the country you move, you will only ever be able to use that same carrier. If that carrier doesn't offer service in your area, well, would you like a sucks donut?

    I depart from many of my libertarian brethren by believing that natural monopolies are real things, and that they ought to be run directly by the government. The government should own the spectrum. Doesn't have to run the towers that actually use the spectrum. It can contract out to private companies to do that, which is what the carriers all do anyway. Hell, the government doesn't really have to do anything at all, except make sure that everyone plays nicely and shares. Which is what regulators are supposed to be doing anyway.

    • (Score: 2) by iamjacksusername on Saturday February 14 2015, @08:55PM

      by iamjacksusername (1479) on Saturday February 14 2015, @08:55PM (#145018)

      The government is sorta doing what you are saying - they auction off licenses to the highest bidder. In theory, the money goes to the public commons as government revenue. The difference is that the "people" own the spectrum and the government is the entity by which it is managed. Semantics, I know but still different than government ownership. To my mind, government ownership just means the regulators will be full captured private interests instead of occasionally having to respond to public protests as they are today.

      I like to use this analogy -

      Imagine if there are two doors, each heavily guarded by 10,000 soldiers. If you try to break into the door, they will kill you. Now, behind the first door is $1 million dollars. No way is anyone going to try to break in because the risk : reward ratio unfavourable. Even if you were to succeed, you would never get back what it took to steal the money. Now behind the second door is $50 Billion dollars. A lot of people would look at that risk : reward and take a shot at it.

      That's the problem with regulation - once the pot of money gets big enough, the amount of people, as well as the effort they will expend, to get a piece of it will increase to the point that guarding the pot effectively becomes a practical impossibility. To my mind, that is the core issue.

    • (Score: 2) by urza9814 on Monday February 16 2015, @02:52PM

      by urza9814 (3954) on Monday February 16 2015, @02:52PM (#145651) Journal

      At least theoretically, if you really didn't like the phone company, you could move and get a new one. But if your phone only works at X MHz, then, no matter where in the country you move, you will only ever be able to use that same carrier.

      You must be REALLY dedicated to your phone if you consider packing up and moving to a new house to be an easier option than just buying a new phone... o_O

      ...let me guess: you've got an N900? ;)

      • (Score: 1) by schad on Tuesday February 17 2015, @05:11AM

        by schad (2398) on Tuesday February 17 2015, @05:11AM (#146005)

        Well, that's the reason for the "at least theoretically" hedge. I don't think anyone ever moved to change phone companies. But it was possible. If you lived in MA and really hated NYNEX, you could move to GA and get SBC instead. In practice, you'd be trading the devil you knew for the one you didn't -- those companies are today known as Verizon and ATT, respectively -- so there sure wouldn't be much point.

        But even that ridiculous and almost entirely illusory freedom doesn't exist with cell phones. Don't like TMo? Too bad, your phone won't work with anyone else. Even if they let you out of your contract, even if the FCC makes them unlock your phone, you're still stuck with TMo unless you buy a new phone, because only TMo uses that range of frequencies.