US cellphone unlocking law a temporary solution?
MANILA, Philippines – US President Barack Obama's August 1 signing of the ‘Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act’ may not have as much of an effect as some might think.
According to the new law, the ‘Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act’ will enable users to unlock their cellular phones – an act previously deemed illegal and punishable by up to 5 years in jail.
It may, however, be a stopgap solution. CBS News reports that the Library of Congress will still be able to determine if “consumer choice in cell phone unlocking is legal next year, at which point the Copyright Office could restore the ban.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren has proposed another bill to make the choice of cellphone unlocking permanently legal.
The legalities of cellphone unlocking
Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) states that “No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title” meaning users cannot modify their devices and thus cannot bypass restrictions imposed on it.
In 2006, the US Copyright office granted an exemption that made unlocking legal. It was set to be reviewed every three years and in 2012 it was allowed to expire, making unlocking illegal again.
The ‘Unlocking Law’ started with a petition by Sina Khanifar on the White House’s We the People website requesting to restore the exemption in the DMCA, allowing users to ‘unlock’ their phones. It quickly gained momentum and finished with 114,000 signatures and was introduced in the Senate on March 11, 2013. The bill passed both the Senate and House on July of 2014.
In a 2013 response, the Library of Congress also noted – agreeing with the administration – that “the question of locked cell phones has implications for telecommunications policy and that it would benefit from review and resolution in that context.”
The technical side to cellphone unlocks
With the new law in action, users can now unlock their phone provided they have finished their contracts with their cellular phone carriers. It also ensures they can receive help if they are not knowledgeable enough to unlock their phone on their own.
CBS News notes, however, that cellphone carriers already agreed to unlock phones after the expiration of contracts. Carriers added that they would unlock prepaid cellphones a year after activation.
Switching carriers is also a technical feat as much as legal one, and to that end, switching carriers in the United States is not as easy as in other countries. CNET adds that AT&T and T-Mobile use a technology called GSM, while Sprint and Verizon use CDMA technology.
While GSM technology users can switch SIM cards to use their phones abroad, for example, switching from GSM to CDMA technology may be more complicated, as CDMA doesn't even use SIM cards. – Rappler.com