Senate passes new phone unlocking bill

0806-seante-house-capitol-senate-recess_full_600

This afternoon, the Senate passed a bill that will allow consumers to switch carriers and keep their same phone once their contract is up. The bill was passed unanimously.

Senator Patrick Leahy introduced S. 517, the “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act” which adds an exemption back in to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) that will let customer unlock their phones once they’re paid up. When it was first introduced last year, Leahy stated “This straightforward restoring bill is about promoting consumer rights. 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.”

The bill, having been passed unanimously by the Senate, must now head to the House for further action. 

To me, it’s one of those instances when common sense prevails. The thought there it could be possible for a carrier to refuse you the option to unlock a phone once your contract (or installment plan) is up is ludicrous, given that you’ve paid for the device, and therefore should own the right to do whatever you want with it. The difficulty arose when the Library of Congress decided that phone software could be protected by copyright laws, and unlocking the phone breaches that copyright.

This bill allows consumers to unlock phones without tampering with the copyrighted software installed on the phone.

Sources: The Hill, Tech Crunch

Tags: , , , , , ,

  • UGEplex

    Now it’s time for a bill that forces manufacturers to make all handsets compatible with all carriers. Yes, it’s possible and not extraordinarily expensive to do. Carriers and manufacturers make a lot of money getting consumers and lawmakers to believe otherwise. Pfft.

    • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

      You yourself can make this a reality by buying only such phones. Why go to the man for something that you can achieve yourself?

      • UGEplex

        Currently, such handsets aren’t “fully compatible”. In one way or another, some element of service is crippled. An “LTE” device on one network might only be 3G/4G compatible on another. There are other service differentiations as well, but those are a different topic altogether. (e.g., WiFi Calling)

        • monkeybutts

          Verizon iPhone works on ATT and T-mobile perfectly as well.

          Nexus 5 works perfectly on Sprint ATT and T-mobile. Both Nexus 5 sold by Sprint and T-mobile on payment plans/contracts are also unlocked.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Government createth a problem, government giveth a solution as if it hadn’t caused the problem first.

    Methinks that brib… campaign contributions by carriers dwindled.

  • BD916

    So, once passed, will this allow me to unlock my Sprint iphone 5 and activate it on TMobile without tampering the “copyrighted software”?

    Would this bill take affect retroactively

    • yankeesusa

      This just unlocks the phones. It doesn’t magically let Sprint cdma phones work with a gsm company.

      • Macano

        Are you sure? Not even somehow!

        • yankeesusa

          Well…. maybe

        • Macano

          Lol

        • notyourbusiness

          It wouldn’t be compatible. Certain Verizon phones are compatible with GSM carriers, like the Nokia Lumia phones they carry and the HTC One. Not sure about any others, though.

        • Macano

          It’s called sarcasm, my bad

        • notyourbusiness

          Now how would I be able to detect your sarcasm on an online forum such as this?

        • matt

          all verizon phones that are LTE are compatible with GSM, PERIOD
          if you want a verizon phone and want to move it to AT&T or tmobile at a later date and operate at full LTE speeds on those networks. buy an iPhone 5c or 5s. it has 13 lte channels.

      • Mr. Brown

        Except the iPhone 5, Sprint & Verizon model, both have GSM radios. The Verizon model comes fully unlocked, per an agreement with the FCC in exchange for some LTE-related spectrum. In fact, all Verizon LTE phones come unlocked per that same FCC agreement. Sprint, on the other hand, will only allow you to unlock the GSM side for international carriers (i.e. no domestic carriers).

        • yankeesusa

          That is correct, those phones have a gsm radio for “international” use. That is only there as an extra feature in the phone. Sprint is primarily a cdma company and don’t advertise their gsm phones as working on us gsm networks. That is simply a bonus of the phone. They will be happy to unlock it for you but only so you can pop in any international sim card. example, my friend who travels to dominican republic on regular basis uses an unlocked 4s so that he can pop in an orange sim card while is in DR then when he comes back to the states he activates the cdma part of the phone. This law does not pertain to that feature of the phone.
          On the other hand the question is, will sprint let you unlock a cdma phone so that you can then take it over to verizon and vice versa. The att and tmobile swap is a lot easier due to the gsm technology.

        • Stefan Naumowicz

          The only difference between this “international use only gsm radio” you describe, and any other gsm radio in a phone, is that sprint doesn’t want their customers using it domestically because it means another lost customer to a competitor, so they don’t give them that option. This kind of behavior is EXACTLY why this bill was created in the first place, I don’t see why you think it would be exempt from the rule.

        • yankeesusa

          You are correct, they are dual cdma and gsm phones. But since they are primarily a cdma company they didn’t have to include the gsm in their phone, they only added it as a benefit to international travelers. So technically yes they can unlock the gsm to work here in the states, your just going to have a half working phone since the bands it uses some aren’t used in the us so your phone will be half working due to this. example, the sprint 4s uses gsm frequency: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 Tmobile uses: 2100 1900 1700 850 2600 700MHz. So as you can see the phone would almost be crippled. So it does no good to unlock it.
          Verizon is a whole other story.

      • Stefan Naumowicz

        All 4s and newer iphones are dual mode cdma/gsm regardless of carrier, so his iPhone 5 would be compatible with tmo IF they would unlock it. I highly doubt the bill will force carriers to apply the rule to phones that were made before the bill, so probably not.

      • matt

        sprint announced that their new unlocking policy will go in effect in February 2015 and from the wording of that announcement it makes it sound like they only guarantee they will unlock your phone for use in the united states on other carriers if you buy your phone after that date

    • almot

      All iPhones are unlocked already. You can switch to T-Mobile right now. My brother just switched from Verizon and using his iPhone 5 on T-Mobile.

      • msohail

        @almot … not sprint iPhone’s .. just Verizon iPhone’s come unlocked.

      • servantofjc

        My AT&T Iphone 4 and my old 3GS are locked to AT&T. I tried my tmobile Sim card and it will not work. Where did you get your information that “ALL iPhones are unlocked?

        • matt

          submit an unlock request.
          if you are out of contract or had service for 60 days or was a go phone customer for 6 months they will unlock your phones.

          if you are a go phone customer make sure your imei is on file on your account. take your phone to an AT&T store and make them look up your account to make sure that the imei is assigned to you

          i think almot was only talking about verizon iPhone 5 phones

      • monkeybutts

        Not all just Verizon. T-mobile at apple stores are also unlocked. I want to say the AT&T iPhones are unlocked as well at apple stores for full price not 100% sure about that though. They do offer GSM with no card or T-mobile card anyways.

    • VETTE98

      NO

  • TBN27

    I just don’t see how all this works. Great that you can unlock your phone and all but what if for example I were to go from verizon to AT&T? My verizon phone cannot take advantage of At&t’s network because they are so different.

    • yankeesusa

      That is true. But the bill isn’t talking about network compatibility or what frequency your phone works with. It’s just allowing you to unlock your phone and be able to switch if the technology allows it. There are always caveats.

    • mikey

      This relates to phones where once unlocked you can just swap sim cards and use whichever network you please. For instance using an at&t phone on tmobile, or vice versa.

    • matt

      it depends on the phone. the AT&T and verizon iPhone 5c and 5s are fully capable of being switched over to t-mobile or AT&T and operating at FULL LTE speeds. but the older iPhone 5 isn’t because it doesn’t have all the LTE channels that the newer models have.

  • Will

    How does that work with prepaid phones? Like AT&T 2go phones? As off right now I know they ask for the phone to be activated and used for at least 6 months in their network!

    • jeremyvbk

      Because the bill does not say they have to change the firmware to allow high speed connections. Those devices can be unlocked. But firware just allows edge connections which is technically unlocked.

  • Guest Poster

    The new Verzion, Sprint, and Virgin Mobile iPhones all have GSM radio chips and a SIM card tray. These iPhone have the capability to work on US GSM providers however Verizon, Sprint and Virgin Mobile block American GSM providers. I’m surprised nobody has sued Verizon or Sprint.

    • Fabian Cortez

      All Verizon LTE iPhones are factory unlocked.

    • matt

      bull crap verizon is unlocked buddy. and i heard virgin mobile has a NO UNLOCK policy. you do not get an unlock at all. when people think virgin mobile will unlock phones it turns out that its au will unlock their phones but the virgin mobile in america is a different company

    • monkeybutts

      You can use Verizon iPhones on both AT&T and T-mobile networks right out of the box as it’s unlocked.

  • Ordeith

    What does it mean “Once the contract is up”? If you buy a carrier branded phone outright and never had service with that carrier, and therefore no contract, would they have to unlock the device?

    • schweddyballs

      Yes, I think “once the contact is up” is a vague term for “once the device is fully paid for” whether that be through EIP finance/2-yr contacted subsidized phone/or just bought it outright.

    • matt

      if you buy a carrier branded phone outright and never have service you do not get an unlock. you have to of had service. either 60 days on a post paid account or 6 months on a prepaid account. that is at&t’s policy.

      • Ordeith

        Yes, but that is not the language of the bill discussed in this article. If it gets signed into law, that policy will have to change.

  • 21stNow

    So I take it that this will remove the policies that require that the phone be used on the network for a certain period of time. That’s the only difference that I see that this will make on T-Mobile. Now AT&T, on the other hand…

    • Stefan Naumowicz

      It won’t make those policies be revoked, it’s just providing a scenario where carriers can’t implement this policy; an out of contract phone. The policy at&t and tmo have for unlocking apply to both contracted and out of contract phones, and they will still use this policy for those out of contract.

      • 21stNow

        The law says that once the contract is fulfilled, the phone should be unlocked. So I would think that if I buy a phone today from T-Mobile at full price upfront, I should not have to wait two weeks (or, if I’m a new customer 40 days) in order to get the phone unlocked. I should be able to request the unlock process the same day that I buy the phone.

        • PiCASSiMO

          Yes… The unlock should be available the minute you buy the phone in full.

  • Stefan Naumowicz

    Phone locking should be illegal altogether, but this is a step in the right direction. Wonder how much higher sprint’s churn can go, we’ll find out once all of their iPhone customers aren’t forced to use their service anymore.

    Also, since tmo doesn’t sell any phones with contracts anymore does that mean they would have to unlock any phone at anybody’s request? I would imagine the bill allows carriers to use an existing EIP as a type of contract in this situation, because that could hurt T-Mobile badly

    • mikey

      As long as you have an installment plan you do not actually own the phone. So they will actually be better off than the other carriers, especially if alot of people jump and never pay more than the minimum, like i do, you will never fully own any phone.

    • T-Mobile Cares

      Not really a problem for us. Even if we unlock a device to be used on another carrier, if the device payments are not maintained or paid in full, we block the IMEI, preventing that device from being used until the payments are brought current or the device is paid off. Hope that addresses your concern.

      • Stefan Naumowicz

        It takes awhile for the IMEI to get blocked, and a lot of customers wouldnt be aware of that policy. Some shady customers would see it as a way to get a free phone that works with any network, and a few months later when their IMEI gets blocked it won’t help T-Mobile get any of that money back. By allowing carriers to use an EIP as a substitute for a contract in regards to unlocking, these potential scammers would be discouraged from doing it in the first place.

    • matt

      i remember back in the day working at radio shack in the 80s, subsidized phone pricing was totally illegal in California. and if you wanted a cell phone you had pay full price or one

  • bill mayor

    Here is the bill for those who want to see what it actually states. Its poorly written and over worded for confusion and future loopholes. As well as a lot of other bills that are written into law. This bill goes into detail about certain areas and then totally missing important aspects of what you would expect it to cover.

    https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s517/text

    Anyone actually narrow down the actual revision that was made? I think he just wanted to include “devices” instead just “mobiles”.

  • PiCASSiMO

    Wonder if this applies to all full-price Pre-Paid phones. I’m still with T-Mobile, but I bought a Lumia 520 for $35 back in the day through Amazon. It’s locked to AT&T but given the fact that I’ve purchased the phone in full, AT&T should provide me with an unlock code should I desire, regardless if I am or not a AT&T customer.

    • matt

      at&t requires an account associated with any at&t device before they will unlock it. you need to have an AT&T account. if you go the go phone route they will provide an unlock after 6 months. if you have a post paid account then you need to have service for at least 60 days. a real problem with go phone i found out multiple times is they do not keep track of imei numbers. and in order for a go phone customer to get an unlock they need 6 months of continuous service, and they need to make sure their imei number of the phone is associated with their account. there has to be some kind of former record of AT&T service associated with a imei number or AT&T will deny the unlock

      • PiCASSiMO

        Well if that’s true, that sucks.

        • matt

          my brother has a gophpne account for over a year or more and he has 2 phones he used one was a ZTE and the other was an iPhone 3GS and they were both turned down for unlocks because they had no record of being on an account. once we went to the AT&T store and had the imei assigned to his go phone account, the unlocks went through. the employee on duty said this was wrong and said it was not necessary , but he was obviously wrong

    • famished

      T-mo should unlock the phone for you. It used to be you could get one unlock every 2-3 weeks.

  • matt

    i own my playstation vita outright. yet we are not allowed to unlock it.

    • sorandkairi

      …. without fucking with copyrighted source material…

      I have two ps vitas… no reason at all to “unlock it” when its not region locked….

      • matt

        the #1 reason to unlock the playstation vita’s 3G is to stick a t-mobile sim card in it to get your 200 mb of free data or maybe even music freedom (if pandora or spotify came out for it) for $10 a month for 1 gb. I was not talking about games and region locks. i was talking about sony’s exclusive contract with at&t over cellular connectivity. i wonder how many owners of the 3g model actually subscribe to at&t.

        • sorandkairi

          That’s a Sony and at deal. Still not really the same thing as phone unlocking. And as far as I know, they’ve stopped selling the 3G Vita in the USA like that a whole ago.Why, because no one wanted it just through ATT. The newest model has no 3G variant anywhere.

          I’ve always just tethered my device to my Vita. Doing so would give it LTE Speeds rather than “3G”.

  • amva55

    The way our Congress is going these days, this bill will probably die in the House. Anyways it’s a first move, and a great one for consumers.