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Obama administration endorses legalizing the unlocking of cell phones & tablets

post #1 of 34
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U.S. President Barack Obama's administration made a statement on Monday publicly supporting the ability of users to legally unlock their cell phones and other devices for use with the carrier of their choosing.

Unlocked iPhone 5


The statement was made in response to a citizen petition filed with the White House, entitled "Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal." That petition was created in response to a Library of Congress ruling made in late 2012 that determined cell phone unlocking would be removed as a legal exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Writing on behalf of the administration, R. David Edelman, senior advisor to the Chief Technology Officer for Internet Policy, said the White House agrees with the more than 100,000 people who signed the online petition.

"Consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties," he said. "In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smartphones. And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren't bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network."

Calling those rights "common sense," Edelman said ensuring the ability of consumers to unlock their devices is "crucial for protecting consumer choice.""Consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties. In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets." ? White House Senior Advisor R. David Edelman.

While the statement is a win for those who believes consumers should be able to unlock their phones and tablets once their service contact is completed, there's nothing currently on the table legislatively to protect those rights. But the Obama administration said it will support a range of approaches to the issue, including legislative fixes, or relying on the Federal Communications Commission to step in.

"We look forward to continuing to work with Congress, the wireless and mobile phone industries, and most importantly you ??the everyday consumers who stand to benefit from this greater flexibility ? to ensure our laws keep pace with changing technology, protect the economic competitiveness that has led to such innovation in this space, and offer consumers the flexibility and freedoms they deserve," said Edelman.

As of Jan. 26, 2013, unauthorized unlocking of all newly purchased phones became illegal. That prompted the creation of the petition by Sina Khanifar, who spoke with AppleInsider last month.

Khanifar frequently travels from Europe to San Francisco, Calif., and said he has found cell phone locking to be not only a nuisance, but also a financial burden.

"Anyone who travels internationally, and most people do at some point, you won't be able to take your cell phone with you," he said. "Trying to use it with the existing roaming fees that carriers charge is almost impossible because they're so exorbitant."

post #2 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

"... And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren't bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network."

In this case AT&T will help you unlock it and it is not illegal. They were very helpful when I needed my old iPhone unlocked to use when traveling abroad.

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post #3 of 34
Originally Posted by mstone View Post
In this case AT&T will help you unlock it and it is not illegal.

 

It's illegal to do it yourself.

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post #4 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Khanifar frequently travels from Europe to San Francisco, Calif., and said he has found cell phone locking to be not only a nuisance, but also a financial burden.

"Anyone who travels internationally, and most people do at some point, you won't be able to take your cell phone with you," he said. "Trying to use it with the existing roaming fees that carriers charge is almost impossible because they're so exorbitant."

 

I tend to disagree with this statement because I don't think most people travel abroad very often or at all. Furthermore, when I travel abroad I carry two phones. One, I carry my regular iPhone 5 which is locked to AT&T because I still want to know when my stateside associates call me. I don't usually answer the phone but instead call them back using my Skype minutes. The other phone I carry is my unlocked iPhone 4 which has a local pay as you go sim so locals can call without dialing an international number. If I were to just have a local pay as you go phone I would not know when someone tried to reach me on my USA phone number.

 

I'm not sure how Verizon phones work but as far as AT&T, if you want to have both your home and international numbers on a single device you are going to need a Nokia or some Android phone because iPhones don't offer dual sim models.

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post #5 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

It's illegal to do it yourself.

 

It's not about unlocking per se, it's about copyrights.

 

Apple argued that modifying their OS to jailbreak and unlock it, was a copyright violation.

post #6 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

In this case AT&T will help you unlock it and it is not illegal. They were very helpful when I needed my old iPhone unlocked to use when traveling abroad.

They will only unlock it if your phone is out of contract, period. If you have even a single month left on your commitment, forget it. Trip or no trip, they will not unlock it unless you pay the ETF. AT&T is a bunch of crooks.

post #7 of 34
I see nothing wrong with this. I should be able to use my iPhone on any carrier I want granted they support that phone.Period.
You want choice? Here you go.
post #8 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

I tend to disagree with this statement because I don't think most people travel abroad very often or at all.

 

Really depends on the area of the world. US Americans are notorious for not travelling abroad too often. Only around 1/3 US citizens even hold a passport (as per January 2012, and this is even a record high, ten years earlier it was only around 1/8).

 

In some European countries this ratio is more like 9/10, and because most countries are rather small, people cross borders far more often. And while some of the European telcos are offering their services in several EU countries, they still charge you for roaming, even if you are on the same carrier, just in another country.

post #9 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

 

I tend to disagree with this statement because I don't think most people travel abroad very often or at all. Furthermore, when I travel abroad I carry two phones. One, I carry my regular iPhone 5 which is locked to AT&T because I still want to know when my stateside associates call me. I don't usually answer the phone but instead call them back using my Skype minutes. The other phone I carry is my unlocked iPhone 4 which has a local pay as you go sim so locals can call without dialing an international number. If I were to just have a local pay as you go phone I would not know when someone tried to reach me on my USA phone number.

 

I'm not sure how Verizon phones work but as far as AT&T, if you want to have both your home and international numbers on a single device you are going to need a Nokia or some Android phone because iPhones don't offer dual sim models.


Are local pay as you go plans worth it on the data end? When I went to Vancouver last August I couldn't find anything that made sense for the 3 days I would be there and because of that I didn't even bother looking when I went to London for a weekend

post #10 of 34
Originally Posted by KDarling View Post
It's not about unlocking per se, it's about copyrights.

 

… It's still illegal.


Apple argued that modifying their OS to jailbreak and unlock it, was a copyright violation.

 

And they were shot down. Jailbreaking is legal (phones), unlocking is not.

 

  Phones Tablets
Jailbreaking Legal Illegal
Unlocking Illegal (legal before Jan 23 yourself and any date with carrier's permission) Illegal (never was legal)

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post #11 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by LordJohnWhorfin View Post

They will only unlock it if your phone is out of contract, period. If you have even a single month left on your commitment, forget it. Trip or no trip, they will not unlock it unless you pay the ETF. AT&T is a bunch of crooks.

What part of commitment do you not understand? Even so if you only had one month left on contract the ETF would probably be less than the monthly fee.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dreyfus2 View Post

In some European countries this ratio is more like 9/10, and because most countries are rather small, people cross borders far more often. And while some of the European telcos are offering their services in several EU countries, they still charge you for roaming, even if you are on the same carrier, just in another country.

The statement in the article was made in reference to traveling from Europe to San Francisco, which if I was doing that I would still want both local and international numbers to continue to function.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by johnnyb0731 View Post

 

Are local pay as you go plans worth it on the data end? When I went to Vancouver last August I couldn't find anything that made sense for the 3 days I would be there and because of that I didn't even bother looking when I went to London for a weekend

In Central America, people can pay as little as three dollars for talk minutes if that is all they can afford. I'm not sure about data. I always buy a month worth (450 minutes) talk and (2GB) data for a total of $20 USD. No LTE just 4G. I'm sure the prices vary widely around the world.

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post #12 of 34
I've done several searches and have not been able to find out who the Librarian of Congress reports to. It may be POTUS himself but I can't verify.

My point being that if he does report to POTUS, why can't Obama just *tell* him to change his position? Executive order and all that. Why bother with legislation and/or the FCC?
post #13 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

In this case AT&T will help you unlock it and it is not illegal. They were very helpful when I needed my old iPhone unlocked to use when traveling abroad.

That is correct. They did it for me.

However:

1. They are not obligated to do so. They could change their policy at any time.

2. AT&T's competitors are not obligated to do so.

3. It involves extra hassle and delay. When my phone was out of contract last year, I wanted to sell it to buy a newer model. It took 3 days for AT&T to unlock it.

4. Most importantly, AT&T will only do so when you are out of contract. I would argue that this is an unfair requirement. When you sign a contract with AT&T, you are obligated to pay them $x per month for 24 months. That obligation continues even if you unlock and sell your phone, so there's no real reason why AT&T won't unlock it. In fact, if your phone remains on AT&T, they have the expense of handling your calls and data. If you give the phone to someone who uses it on a different network, AT&T still gets your monthly fee, but doesn't have any expense. Even better, if you give it to someone who signs up for AT&T or Straight Talk, AT&T double dips - they receive your payment plus payment from the new user.

There's just no good reason for the phone to be locked.
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post #14 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

What part of commitment do you not understand? Even so if you only had one month left on contract the ETF would probably be less than the monthly fee.

 

The statement in the article was made in reference to traveling from Europe to San Francisco, which if I was doing that I would still want both local and international numbers to continue to function.

 

In Central America, people can pay as little as three dollars for talk minutes if that is all they can afford. I'm not sure about data. I always buy a month worth (450 minutes) talk and (2GB) data for a total of $20 USD. No LTE just 4G. I'm sure the prices vary widely around the world.

Seems to me that YOU are the one with the problem understanding what commitment is. As long as you're not cancelling your contract and keep paying your monthly subscription, you are fulfilling the commitment. Furthermore, I was answering a statement from a previous poster who claimed that AT&T would unlock your phone at any time if you told them you needed it for travel. They will not.

Please try to improve your reading comprehension before you contribute again, thanks.

post #15 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by ktappe View Post

I've done several searches and have not been able to find out who the Librarian of Congress reports to. It may be POTUS himself but I can't verify.

My point being that if he does report to POTUS, why can't Obama just *tell* him to change his position? Executive order and all that. Why bother with legislation and/or the FCC?

I only looked for a minute, but I didn't find the information, either. What I found is that the Librarian of Congress is appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate. S/he must also report back to Congress periodically, so it may be that s/he reports to the Senate.

As for the rest, it's not that simple. If it were simply an executive order, the President could change it. But it involves copyright laws (maybe even covered under DMCA), so the President has to work with Congress to get it changed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

What part of commitment do you not understand? Even so if you only had one month left on contract the ETF would probably be less than the monthly fee.

I don't know. What part don't you understand?

If you sign a contract, you're obligated to pay it whether the phone stays with your existing carrier or not. It could be eaten by dinosaurs and you'd still owe your monthly fee until the contract ends. Locking the phone doesn't protect the carriers in any way.
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post #16 of 34

Quote:


Apple argued that modifying their OS to jailbreak and unlock it, was a copyright violation.

 

And they were shot down. Jailbreaking is legal (phones), unlocking is not.

 

 

  Phones Tablets
Jailbreaking Legal Illegal
Unlocking Illegal (legal before Jan 23 yourself and any date with carrier's permission) Illegal (never was legal)

 

 

Perhaps legal, but always immoral.   You agreed to a EULA, you broke your word.  

post #17 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by dreyfus2 View Post

 

Really depends on the area of the world. US Americans are notorious for not travelling abroad too often. Only around 1/3 US citizens even hold a passport (as per January 2012, and this is even a record high, ten years earlier it was only around 1/8).

 

In some European countries this ratio is more like 9/10, and because most countries are rather small, people cross borders far more often. And while some of the European telcos are offering their services in several EU countries, they still charge you for roaming, even if you are on the same carrier, just in another country.

My guess the reason for the recent increase is because as of a few years ago (5? Too lazy to check) you need a passport to get into Canada even by driving.  Not really a germane post, but either way.

post #18 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


There's just no good reason for the phone to be locked.

I agree with you that for honest people who honor their commitments it would not be a problem as they would pay off their contract regardless, however, there are probably many people who might not complete their payments as obligated, regardless, of ruining their credit. With an automobile or a house, if you don't make your payments, they can repossess it. It is not that easy with a phone. They could turn it off and take you to court, but it is a lot more practical for them to just have the phone locked to deter deadbeats.

 

When traveling abroad you can always find an inexpensive pay as you go feature phone at the grocery store or wherever. Sure it is not as convenient as having a smartphone but at least you can make and receive local calls. You just have to wait until you get near WiFi to use your locked smartphone. It really depends on the situation, whether you are on business or vacation and how long you are going to stay in the foreign country as to what the best solution would be.

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post #19 of 34

Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

What part of commitment do you not understand? Even so if you only had one month left on contract the ETF would probably be less than the monthly fee.

I don't know. What part don't you understand?

If you sign a contract, you're obligated to pay it whether the phone stays with your existing carrier or not. It could be eaten by dinosaurs and you'd still owe your monthly fee until the contract ends. Locking the phone doesn't protect the carriers in any way.

I'm not sure I follow you. We agree 100% on the commitment part. As in the previous examples I offered when you pay off your house or car they give you the title, not before. Why is a phone any different? You pay it off they give you the unlock code.

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post #20 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

I agree with you that for honest people who honor their commitments it would not be a problem as they would pay off their contract regardless, however, there are probably many people who might not complete their payments as obligated, regardless, of ruining their credit. With an automobile or a house, if you don't make your payments, they can repossess it. It is not that easy with a phone. They could turn it off and take you to court, but it is a lot more practical for them to just have the phone locked to deter deadbeats.

But that gets back to the basic issues being discussed here.

When you buy a new pair of pants with a credit card, if you fail to pay, can they come strip the pants off you in the street? Yet there's no call for retailers to be able to repossess your clothes if you don't pay - and a pair of pants costs a lot less than a phone.

They're trying to create an entirely new field of ownership that is not really in compliance with any standard practice. Ordinarily, if you buy something, it either has a lien or it doesn't. When you buy a car, you have to specifically grant the loan company with a lien on the vehicle - it's not automatic. Similarly, if you buy a home, you have to specifically grant a lien on the home. For other large purchases, you may also grant a lien (for example, the law allows for a mechanic's lien if someone does work on your home or car).

When you buy a phone, there is no such lien. It's a free-and-clear purchase. As the owner, you have a legal right to buy, sell, or trade anything you own. The phone companies are trying to get the best of both worlds - they want the advantages of a lien, but without the disadvantages (cost of creating liens and requirement to follow consumer protection laws). That's a very pro-business and anti-consumer effort.
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post #21 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


If you sign a contract, you're obligated to pay it whether the phone stays with your existing carrier or not. It could be eaten by dinosaurs and you'd still owe your monthly fee until the contract ends. Locking the phone doesn't protect the carriers in any way.

One can always pay the ETF and get out of the contract.
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post #22 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

But that gets back to the basic issues being discussed here.

When you buy a new pair of pants with a credit card, if you fail to pay, can they come strip the pants off you in the street? Yet there's no call for retailers to be able to repossess your clothes if you don't pay - and a pair of pants costs a lot less than a phone.

The retailer got paid in full from the credit card company. If you don't pay your CC bill they cut you off and sue you.

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post #23 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

I'm not sure I follow you. We agree 100% on the commitment part. As in the previous examples I offered when you pay off your house or car they give you the title, not before. Why is a phone any different? You pay it off they give you the unlock code.

Because when you buy a car or a house, you specifically sign a document establishing a lien on the home or car. Without a specific document, the lien doesn't exist. If the phone companies want to put a lien into place on phones, they are free to do that. However, they don't because it requires them to follow various consumer protection laws that they don't want to follow (for example, they would be required to tell you how much you're borrowing, how much of your monthly payment goes for interest and principle, and what interest rate they're charging).

Essentially, they're trying to get the benefit of a lien without having to do the things that the law requires a lien-holder to do. They want the benefits without paying the cost.
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post #24 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

The retailer got paid in full from the credit card company. If you don't pay your CC bill they cut you off and sue you.

Just as AT&T has the right to terminate your service and sue you if you don't pay your phone bill.

Modify my analogy if you like. So why can't the credit card company track you down and rip the pants off of you if you don't pay?

Answer: because there's no lien on the pants - just as there's no lien on the phone. You can't have it both ways. Either you get a lien (which involves following the consumer protection laws) or you don't. But if you don't want to follow the consumer protection laws, you don't get a lien. Locking the phones is nothing more than a backdoor attempt to get a lien without doing what would otherwise be required.
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post #25 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

Essentially, they're trying to get the benefit of a lien without having to do the things that the law requires a lien-holder to do. They want the benefits without paying the cost.

Makes sense but clearly you understand the advantage that the carriers see in locking the phone. It would be better if they disclosed the amount of the subsidy because I think it is unfair that they still charge the same monthly fee even after you have completed your contract.

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post #26 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by ktappe View Post

I've done several searches and have not been able to find out who the Librarian of Congress reports to. It may be POTUS himself but I can't verify.

 

This source says that the President appoints a Librarian for life. I would think that he has to report to Congress once in a while, but I don't know he has to obey POTUS orders or not.  He's not the Presidential librarian unless we believe the Book of Secrets  :)

 

http://www.loc.gov/loc/legacy/librs.html

 

"Although the Library of Congress was established in 1800, the office of Librarian was not created until 1802. This 1802 law stipulated that the Librarian of Congress was to be appointed by the president---not by the Congress. In fact, Congress had no formal role in the appointment process until 1897, when the Senate gained the privilege of confirming the president's selection.

 

No special qualifications are prescribed by law for the job of Librarian of Congress. Nor is a term of office specified, even though in the twentieth century the precedent seems to have been established that a Librarian of Congress is appointed for life."

post #27 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

Makes sense but clearly you understand the advantage that the carriers see in locking the phone.

Of course I understand the advantage that the carriers see. Clearly, they think that it locks in their customers. I just don't see any benefit to the consumers OR the market as a whole.
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

It would be better if they disclosed the amount of the subsidy because I think it is unfair that they still charge the same monthly fee even after you have completed your contract.

I've argued that all along. For years, I've suggested that the monthly rate should drop after you've completed the contract. However, that doesn't impact directly on the issue being discussed here.
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post #28 of 34
It's not the consumer unlocking that needs to be made legal, it's the telco locking that needs to be made illegal!

As long as you pay for your phone each month as per your contract the telco you're buying it from should have no right to prevent you from using another network whenever you wish. While you are under contract you have to pay off the phone each month and pay for any usage on that telco's network, but you shouldn't be prevented from using another network as well if you wish to.

At the very least contract phones should by law be automatically unlocked when the contract ends and the handset is paid for. There should be no need for the consumer to do anything to unlock it, it should happen automatically by default. The phone no longer belongs to the telco, it is now the consumer's property and should be theirs to do with as they wish.
post #29 of 34
The principle is important; you should not be prevented from using a device you have paid for with other services. You buy your iPhone, let's say, from AT&T; the phone, if one could talk AT&T into unlocking it, could also be used with T-Mobile and a few other regional providers like i-Wireless, so long as you don't mind not having AWS freqencies. And yet, per the Librarian of Congress, this is a copyright violation? Get real. You've paid the $200 up front for the customer share of the phone; you're committed to paying AT&T $350 in ETF if you walk, thereby more than covering the rest of the cost of the phone to AT&T; what on earth is wrong with being free to use the phone on another carrier?

The answer is, of course, that the carriers' profit model might be jeopardized in the long-run by customers who own a device outright and feel free to move around. Well, guess what. That's competition. Additionally, the carriers live in terror at international travelers having the option to go with prepaid services abroad in much the same way that, er, VoiceStream (remember them, pre-T-Mobile?) customers were able to do a decade ago anyway without having to mess around with multiple SIM cards, what with VoiceStream's 29 cent per minute roaming in Europe and Canada. $1.29 a minute for the same today is sustainable only with monopolistic practices like phone locking.

Verizon seems to already get this, although I think it has more to do with the conditions they had to agree to in order to get such a good chunk of 700MHz spectrum. So, let's just say they get it sufficiently that they've opted not to kick up too much of a fuss about it. The astonishing thing to me is that the professionals in charge of our national library have such an arrogant and over-arching view of copyright. You'd think they would want to open up the spread of information, not confine it.
post #30 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

There's just no good reason for the phone to be locked.

 

Yes there is, carriers subsidise phones, the carrier's customers pay for it.

 

Why should YOU pay for another carriers customers to have a cheaper phone?

 

This is especially relevant with PAYG phones, where if they are sold unlocked some people will take advantage of it and export phones for grey markets.

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post #31 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by hill60 View Post

Yes there is, carriers subsidise phones, the carrier's customers pay for it.

Why should YOU pay for another carriers customers to have a cheaper phone?

This is especially relevant with PAYG phones, where if they are sold unlocked some people will take advantage of it and export phones for grey markets.

What's that got to do with locking phones?

As explained above, when the carrier subsidizes the phone, you are obligated to pay -whether you use the phone or not. Since using the phone on a different network doesn't cost the carrier any money (in fact, it saves them money since they don't have to provide your services), your argument is meaningless. If I sign up for a 2 year $100 per month plan with AT&T, I still have to pay them $2400 whether I use the phone, send it overseas to the gray market, or break it into little pieces and flush it down the toilet.

If the carriers want a lien on the phone, they can get one - but they have to follow the various consumer protection laws. They obviously don't want to to do that, so they're trying an end run.
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post #32 of 34
The gent who set up petition is a known 'unlocker for hire' which is why he wants it to stay legal. If it is illegal, he'll be shut down in a jiffy.

What we need is for locked phones to be gone from day one. All phones should just be sold unlocked like they do in Europe etc. let the carriers subsidize etc if they like but in a separate line item so those that finished a contract etc aren't being overcharged.
post #33 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


... If I sign up for a 2 year $100 per month plan with AT&T, I still have to pay them $2400 whether I use the phone, send it overseas to the gray market, or break it into little pieces and flush it down the toilet. ...

 

If my phone got broken into little pieces and flushed down the toilet, I think I'd pay the ETF instead of the $2400. The ETF is in the contract, so it's hardly an immoral or illegal breach of it. 

 

I can't speak to AT&T but with Sprint the contract just says you have to have service with them, not a specific plan. When I got my current first phone with them my wife was already on Sprint, so we got a shared plan. Her contract expired and she's gone PAYG on Straight Talk with a new phone. I have 14 months left but was able to switch to an individual plan. The Sprint folks said I could pick any plan so long as I stayed with the company for the remaining 14 months. 

post #34 of 34
Unlocking (factory permanent unlock) is legal. It's just not publicized. But it's a pain in the ass for some people, depending on which phone/carrier they chose.

The subject should be about making unlocking easy.
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