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Bipartisan US Senate bill would allow customers to legally unlock their smartphones

post #1 of 47
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U.S. Sen. Al Franken and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have introduced bipartisan legislation that would allow users to legally unlock their smartphone once their contract subsidy has concluded.

The Democrat from Minnesota announced on Tuesday that the "Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act" would restore an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and allow users to unlock their cell phone once their contract expires.

Unlocked iPhone 5


Joining Franken were Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

The senators defined the bill as a "narrow and common sense proposal" that they believe will promote competition and improve consumer choice.

The bill was prompted by 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. As of Jan. 26, 2013, unauthorized unlocking of all newly purchased phones became illegal. "This bipartisan legislation will quickly allow consumers to unlock their current phones instead of having to purchase a new one." ??Sen. Al Franken

"Right now, folks who decide to change cellphone carriers are frequently forced to buy a new phone or risk the possibility of criminal penalties, and that?s just not fair for consumers," Franken said. "This bipartisan legislation will quickly allow consumers to unlock their current phones instead of having to purchase a new one. I support this commonsense solution to save consumers money."

Last week, President Barack Obama's administration also came out in support of legalizing the unlocking of cell phones and tablets. Their endorsement was given in response to a White House petition created by Sina Khanifar, which to date has received nearly 115,000 signatures.

Khanifar spoke with AppleInsider last month and said he frequently travels from Europe to San Francisco, Calif. Those international trips have made cell phone locking 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."

The proposed Senate bill would alleviate those issues for consumers like Khanifar. A similar bipartisan bill is also expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives this week.

"It just makes sense that cell phone users should be able to do what they want with their phones after satisfying their initial service contract," Hatch said. "This bill reinstates that ability, while also ensuring that copyrights are not violated."

post #2 of 47

Uh… wait a minute. Since when did Congress start doing its job and acting for the people it represents again?

 

The telecoms are going to HATE this.

 

Also, moved to PO. Go nuts. 1tongue.gif

post #3 of 47
Not thinking they will hate this at all, unlocking after a contract is not against the law now, right?
post #4 of 47
Franken has always been pro-consumer. This bill, however, is easy to support as consumers strongly favor it and telecoms probably don't care that much. The reality is the old DMCA exception allowed you to unlock the phone at any time even during the life of the contract. This law merely supports unlocking it at the expiration of the contract. Currently, AT&T will already unlock an iPhone at the end of its contract. Not doing so sets it up for anti-competition charges.

I for one favor the old DMCA exception because whether or not I want a phone unlocked is separate from my obligations to pay under the contract.
post #5 of 47
Originally Posted by Rob Bonner View Post
Not thinking they will hate this at all, unlocking after a contract is not against the law now, right?

 

This involves unlocking at any time. So a user can now cancel a contract whenever they want and then go and unlock legally (like, well, always before that new DMCA change, pushed by the telecoms, to make it illegal).

 

Of course they'll hate it. They're getting their work (and hundreds of thousands in lobbying) undone in just a few months.

post #6 of 47
There is no legitimate reason to allow locks in the first place and many reasons not to allow it at all.

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post #7 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

 

This involves unlocking at any time. So a user can now cancel a contract whenever they want and then go and unlock legally (like, well, always before that new DMCA change, pushed by the telecoms, to make it illegal).

 

Of course they'll hate it. They're getting their work (and hundreds of thousands in lobbying) undone in just a few months.

I am not reading it that way, it says " legislation that would allow users to legally unlock their smartphone once their contract subsidy has concluded."  I don't see where this changes anything in the contract between me and AT&T.  If I want it unlocked during the contract, I probably have to buy them out, then the contract would end and I can unlock, pretty much as I do today.  Really asking, not seeing how this is anything new.  It seems like they are fighting for something we already have, which would put this on level with a PR stunt.

post #8 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tulkas View Post

There is no legitimate reason to allow locks in the first place and many reasons not to allow it at all.

I don't agree with this, they do deserve the lock when they loan you the money to buy a expensive phone that is paid back with service.  Just like a normal loan, they secure it with the device.

post #9 of 47
Originally Posted by Rob Bonner View Post
I am not reading it that way, it says " legislation that would allow users to legally unlock their smartphone once their contract subsidy has concluded."  

 

Oh? Well, the law already allows that. I don't know why we'd need another bill to continue to say that.


I also don't see why I'd care about what it says anyway, as I'll unlock MY device at any time anyway. 1oyvey.gif

post #10 of 47
The carriers won't care. The carriers still charge us the same amount or more for using their network regardless of whether they are subsidizing a new phone under a contract or not.

These are monopolies. Yes, they are building out the infrastructure but they are making tremendous and obscene profits (profits are all the money they get for mansions, after they put the relatively piddling amount towards infrastructure upgrades).
post #11 of 47
Does this mean if you "buyout" the remaining time on your contract ("early termination fee"), basically paying off the subsidy, that you can unlock immediately?
post #12 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

 

This involves unlocking at any time. So a user can now cancel a contract whenever they want and then go and unlock legally

 

Technically no. This bill is about unlocked at the end of your contract, either by waiting two years or buying out your subsidy. But we can already legally do this. So this bill is pointless. And doesn't respond to the petition about literally unlocking at any time. That guy ran an unlocking business so of course he didn't want said business criminalized, but they are ignoring him and his desire on their response.

 

there are two other petitions that came out that are more consumer focused and would actually do something. Pity they can't seem to get the names to get footing in the site lists (you have to get like 200 signatures before they will show the petition on the site). 

 

http://wh.gov/G7Ut

 

http://wh.gov/G7GL

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post #13 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Bonner View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tulkas View Post

There is no legitimate reason to allow locks in the first place and many reasons not to allow it at all.
I don't agree with this, they do deserve the lock when they loan you the money to buy a expensive phone that is paid back with service.  Just like a normal loan, they secure it with the device.

That's what the early termination fees are for. All phones should be unlocked and if you fail to pay your monthly bill, you get hit with an early termination fee that recoups the cost of the "loan" or subsidy on the cost of the phone. There is no need to lock the phone itself. If you want to have concurrent contracts with multiple providers that's up to you, so long as you fulfil the terms of your contract.
post #14 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Bonner View Post

I don't agree with this, they do deserve the lock when they loan you the money to buy a expensive phone that is paid back with service.  Just like a normal loan, they secure it with the device.

Loan? What loan? No such thing in my telco contract. It just say to get a "discounted" price, a new/renewal 2 year contract.

post #15 of 47
This doesn't seem to help anybody with a new subsidized phone who travels overseas. Wasn't that the point of the petitioner?
post #16 of 47

I agree with all of this, in fact, thinking about starting a petition today that lets us not pay credit card bills after we make a purchase.  (This is what the petition really wants in the phone business, that you can take your hardware and run before it is paid off)

post #17 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by bleh1234 View Post

Loan? What loan? No such thing in my telco contract. It just say to get a "discounted" price, a new/renewal 2 year contract.

 

It is the same thing in essence.  They discount the price when you agree to a contract, they recoop the cost in the monthly bill.  If you walk in and purchase sans contract, it would cost ~$300 bucks additional.  Personally, I see no reason to do this (maybe intl travel), since you need a carrier to use the device anyway, and they don't discount for a non-subsidy phone.

post #18 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Bonner View Post

Not thinking they will hate this at all, unlocking after a contract is not against the law now, right?

If you bought a phone today and unlocked it after the contract is completed, you are breaking the law.  Currently, unlocking is illegal any time unless the carrier approves it. Contract status is irrelevant.

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post #19 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

 

This involves unlocking at any time. So a user can now cancel a contract whenever they want and then go and unlock legally (like, well, always before that new DMCA change, pushed by the telecoms, to make it illegal).

 

Of course they'll hate it. They're getting their work (and hundreds of thousands in lobbying) undone in just a few months.

 

 

This is not right at all. Under the previous DMCA exception, you could unlock your phone anytime regardless of the contract. That exception was recently taken away, and now it is illegal to unlock your phone yourself except under some really limited circumstances. For instance, if you thought it was fair use under the copyright law to unlock the phone, you could do so provided you do the unlocking yourself with no help from anybody else. This of course is almost impossible for anybody not skilled in hacking. 

 

The lobbyists still win if the proposed bill passes. As I said, under the old DMCA exception you could unlock the phone anytime even while under contract. This is highly useful if you want to travel out of the Country. This proposed law makes it so you can only unlock it after the contract is over. AT&T has been unlocking iPhones upon request after the contract expires for a while now, and it recently announced it will automatically do so now. So if it doesn't care, I doubt the others will care that much. They don't want you to unlock it during the contract. 

post #20 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by bottleworks View Post

If you bought a phone today and unlocked it after the contract is completed, you are breaking the law.  Currently, unlocking is illegal any time unless the carrier approves it. Contract status is irrelevant.

 

 

This is not quite right. You can unlock your phone any time you want provided you do it yourself with absolutely no help from anybody else at all (e.g. not using third party software). There are other instances you can unlock it as well. For instance, if you were doing so for reverse engineering purposes. 

post #21 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Bonner View Post

 

It is the same thing in essence.  They discount the price when you agree to a contract, they recoop the cost in the monthly bill.  If you walk in and purchase sans contract, it would cost ~$300 bucks additional.  Personally, I see no reason to do this (maybe intl travel), since you need a carrier to use the device anyway, and they don't discount for a non-subsidy phone.

 

Actually, its cheaper to pay ETF than to buy it outright. For example, S3 is about $699.00 w/o contract. If you get a discounted S3 at $49.99 when it was on sale and terminate contract for $320.00, total cost is about $369.99 vice 699. Even with normal 2 yr deal of $199.99 (plus ETF $320) its only $519.99. still a saving.

post #22 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Bonner View Post

 

It is the same thing in essence.  They discount the price when you agree to a contract, they recoop the cost in the monthly bill.  If you walk in and purchase sans contract, it would cost ~$300 bucks additional.  Personally, I see no reason to do this (maybe intl travel), since you need a carrier to use the device anyway, and they don't discount for a non-subsidy phone.

 

 

That is why I like T-Mobile because it does discount for a non-subsidy phone. I pay $50 plus tax for an unlimited everything plan. If I want a phone, they will give me a loan and I will pay about $20 a month more, but only until the phone is paid off. 

post #23 of 47
Once I am done with my two year contract, shouldn't my monthly bill drop since I am now done paying off the loan for the phone and am only paying for services? No, my bill stays the same let it be I am in contract or not. Telecommunications, including cable and internet service in America, sucks plain and simple.
post #24 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Bonner View Post

I don't agree with this, they do deserve the lock when they loan you the money to buy a expensive phone that is paid back with service.  Just like a normal loan, they secure it with the device.

Exactly......if you buy a $700 phone from a carrier for $199 and a 2 year contract then the carrier has the right to lock the phone for the length of the contract.

No one is forcing people to buy at $199. they can always buy the phone out right and go month to month.

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post #25 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Bonner View Post

I don't agree with this, they do deserve the lock when they loan you the money to buy a expensive phone that is paid back with service.  Just like a normal loan, they secure it with the device.

No they don't.  They loan you the money in return for the ETF, not the device.  Cancel your contract halfway through, and see if they accept your offer to return the phone?  Oh right, they won't.

post #26 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by calisurfboy View Post

Once I am done with my two year contract, shouldn't my monthly bill drop since I am now done paying off the loan for the phone and am only paying for services? No, my bill stays the same let it be I am in contract or not. Telecommunications, including cable and internet service in America, sucks plain and simple.

Agreed, but make no mistake; telco's suck in all countries. Over here in NL with KPN you have to return the phone after paying for the privilege of using it (for 12 or 24 months)
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post #27 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Bonner View Post

I agree with all of this, in fact, thinking about starting a petition today that lets us not pay credit card bills after we make a purchase.  (This is what the petition really wants in the phone business, that you can take your hardware and run before it is paid off)

 

And what about that ETF the carrier with slap you with?  Or does this somehow morph into people not paying that too?

post #28 of 47
The bill should REQUIRE any seller of a locked phone to unlock it for free automatically when the contract has concluded. Currently consumers often have to rely upon hackers to find some exploit in order to unlock their phones or to pay a fee for the service. This is almost as bad as making the practice illegal.
post #29 of 47
Yes this is a big hoax. Otherwise known as three card monte.

This a giant political maneuver to gain even more control over peoples devices and privacy. I hate to think of what else they tack onto this bill.
They passed this law knowing people would retaliate. Then they act like the good guy who will pass a bill to correct the situation, but as others have mentioned it is really changes nothing. It still means you cannot unlock unless the subsity is paid, in other words your contract is expired.
Americans privacy is under attack by the most corrupt people of all, politicians.
post #30 of 47
So, a new law that is nothing more than the old (new) law. Thanks for helping the people.

READ: If you're under contract and travel outside the USA, your carrier has the right to RAPE YOU for international roaming charges.

What a waste of time.
post #31 of 47

The problem with the "loan" is that you keep paying even after the "loan" is paid off. If you use a subsidizing+contract carrier, it's not like they give you a discount once your subsidy has been paid for. You keep on paying $100 a month. They're baking in the price of a new phone (plus a little extra) every two years. 

post #32 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by GrangerFX View Post

The bill should REQUIRE any seller of a locked phone to unlock it for free automatically when the contract has concluded. Currently consumers often have to rely upon hackers to find some exploit in order to unlock their phones or to pay a fee for the service. This is almost as bad as making the practice illegal.

 

 

No the law should forbid the phone to be locked period or in the very least require the carrier to unlock the phone upon request. A customer is required to honor the contract with a carrier regardless of whether the phone is locked or not. When you buy a refrigerator on credit, it isn't locked. This is all about international roaming fees. The inability to unlock the phone kills Americans and makes carriers rich when people travel outside the country. 

post #33 of 47
"Yes, they are building out the infrastructure". That's why in most countries, they get state subsidies.

In some countries, the infrastructure is built by the state itself, and then loaned to private companies that operate/maintain it.

Social Capitalist, dreamer and wise enough to know I'm never going to grow up anyway... so not trying anymore.

 

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post #34 of 47
Is there any other way? It's the first time I hear that the cellular company keeps the user's phone locked even after the subsidy contract ends. Is there a particular reason that carriers are so restricting for consumers in the US (add in those expensive and limited data plans)?

My current (european) unlimited data voice text plan for 25$/month includes lots of bonuses and discounts (4G, free roaming) just to keep me from switching to another carrier. I guess it's all about the competition.

I'm all in favor for the consumer-supporting legislation.
post #35 of 47
Who cares? Carriers will just do what Verizon's already doing: disallow phones which aren't made specifically for their network.
post #36 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by ngrlvr View Post

Who cares? Carriers will just do what Verizon's already doing: disallow phones which aren't made specifically for their network.

 

This was true when the phones were CDMA. However as part of the terms for purchasing their latest spectrum, they have to leave LTE phones unlocked with regard to the SIM slot.

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post #37 of 47
This proposal is crap, Locking the phones allows unfair roaming charges. Buying unlocked phones is bes as it avoids the roaming issues, but they then screw you with the same service fees as subsidized phone users. The telecoms will love this. It keeps the status quo allowing locking.
post #38 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

 

This involves unlocking at any time. So a user can now cancel a contract whenever they want and then go and unlock legally (like, well, always before that new DMCA change, pushed by the telecoms, to make it illegal).

 

Of course they'll hate it. They're getting their work (and hundreds of thousands in lobbying) undone in just a few months.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Bonner View Post

I am not reading it that way, it says " legislation that would allow users to legally unlock their smartphone once their contract subsidy has concluded."  I don't see where this changes anything in the contract between me and AT&T.  If I want it unlocked during the contract, I probably have to buy them out, then the contract would end and I can unlock, pretty much as I do today.  Really asking, not seeing how this is anything new.  It seems like they are fighting for something we already have, which would put this on level with a PR stunt.

 

I suspect Frankin knows it's pointless, it's just more political posturing to try & win favor from people.  We've got to get rid of all the morons on capital hill, if we can't then we deserve to have them flush our country down the drain.

post #39 of 47
Originally Posted by Phone-UI-Guy View Post
Locking the phones allows unfair roaming charges.

 

That you are being charged is not unfair. The fairness of the rates, however, is certainly open to debate.

post #40 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

 

That you are being charged is not unfair. The fairness of the rates, however, is certainly open to debate.

 

I'm not sure I understand how it's unfair for the carrier to abide by the terms of a contract you both agreed to.

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